Two good ole boys from southern Missouri were out in the woods hunting -- when one of them fell to the ground.
He did not seem to be breathing and his eyes were rolled back in his head.
The other hunter started to panic, then whips out his cell phone and calls 911.
He frantically blurts out to the operator, “My friend Bubba is dead. What can I do??”
The operator, trying to calm him down says, “Take it easy. I can help. Just listen to me and follow my directions. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There’s a short pause, and then the operator hears a loud gun shot.
The hunter comes back on the line and says, “OK, now what???””
Sometimes, it’s easy to HEAR the words someone else is speaking --- without LISTENING to what they are really saying.
Most disputes among us – even among those of us who call ourselves Christians – arise because we may hear what someone else is saying --- but we aren’t listening. We think we know what’s being said – but we don’t clarify the situation before jumping to unnecessary and unhelpful conclusions. . .
and that’s when disagreements, and disputes, and arguments, and misunderstandings, and hurt feelings can begin. . .
Hearing is one of the body’s five senses-- it comes to us naturally – but listening is a skill that needs to be developed. And most people do not listen with the intent to understand --- they listen -- with the intent to reply.
So even as we listen to someone talking to us – our brains are already formulating a reply even before the other person has stopped speaking.
And often, we are so eager to express our opinions that we interrupt the other person in mid- speech, which is always rude –
and may cause the other person to say-- maybe with a little attitude: “Can you just let me finish what I’m saying??”
And so tempers may flare, and egos are bruised, and an argument may ensue --- all because we were hearing the words – but not listening. . .
Jesus has a remedy for this. . . first of all notice that the word LISTEN was used 4 times in this Gospel reading – indicating, I think, that most disputes could be avoided if we just LISTENED! After all, as the saying goes, that’s why we have two ears and only one mouth. . .
So Jesus says, if you’re having trouble with someone else – go and talk with them. If they LISTEN TO YOU – then the disagreement will come to an end.
GO AND TALK WITH THEM—NOT avoid them because you disagree with them – not stand there and yell at them – not to start telling others what a jerk someone else is --- and certainly NOT: post it on Facebook – because that’s a very anonymous way of just spreading rumor, gossip, and disregard – rather than actually solving a problem!
The first step Jesus gives us: go and talk with the person – is often times more easier said, then done.
If you go and talk it out – and they don’t LISTEN to you – then take one or two others with you – in Jesus’ day for evidence to stand up in a Roman Court of Law – two or three witnesses were needed to sustain the charge—hence this step in conflict resolution.
But, sometimes -- someone else who is a bit removed from the heat of the disagreement – may be able to better explain what’s going on --- and what needs to be resolved.
And also Jesus tells us where two or three are gathered together – he will be with us. . .
And if they still refuse to LISTEN – report it to the community; and if there is still no LISTENING going on – then treat them like a pagan or a tax collector.
Certainly a logical process that is applicable in addressing wrong-doing or resolving a conflict. But it all depends on one important factor – LISTENING!
For any dialogue, or discussion, or a debate – listening to the other person is necessary – otherwise things just have a tendency to escalate – maybe even turn violent.
So is this Gospel just about addressing a wrong-doing or resolving a conflict? Maybe --- but it could be more than that – because of the line:
“if they refuse to listen to the community – then treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Which is interesting advice since this passage is taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel who – himself – was a tax collector before Jesus called him to follow after him.
In Jesus day, a pagan was understood to be one who doesn’t know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob --- and a tax collector is one who is concerned only with material gain.
So to treat a person as a pagan or as a tax collector is to understand that the person does not know the voice of God and does not know how to listen to God – and so compassion and understanding is to be shown to them. . .
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another,” as St. Paul tells us in the second reading.
I think what Jesus is telling us in this Gospel is what I tell each and every couple that comes to me for marriage preparation --- having problems is not the problem – as EVERYONE has problems.
But not knowing how to DEAL with the problems – is the problem
Jesus has a remedy for this. It is a process that involves two very important things --- going and TALKING with the person with whom we are having difficulty----- and then LISTENING –
Remembering all the while that we have two ears and only one mouth – indicating that perhaps we need to do twice as much listening as we do talking.
Nothing could more needed in our Church and country --- and in our families – than this, today: talking and listening.
Moments in time...