We Hear What We Want To Hear

Luke 4:14-21 – The 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – for Sunday, January 24, 2016

“He began to explain to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.’” (Luke 4:21)

Female-doctor-listening-t-006Leaning forward, I listened intently.

Chatter and ringing phones from nearby sections of the busy second floor—the reception desk, waiting room, and adjoining exam areas—faded into background noise.

At a teaching hospital, my wife and I focused on the surgeon’s explanation. As still as soldiers standing at attention, several student interns and the supervising professor (a renowned medical expert) also crowded the exam room.

Only our doctor spoke. Only her words mattered.

While not an emergency, this was serious. We had time to ponder, but a decision needed to happen within a few months. That decision would trigger a cascade of activities including crucial CT scans to discern the extent of the damage. The surgeon elaborated on the key steps necessary before and after the operation. Wanting to be 100% sure about everything, I asked her to repeat several statements

So focused on her crucial information, I didn’t even hear any barking in the background.

Our doctor was a vet.

Owners of our then nine-month old Kynzi, we sought to comprehend our choices. Kynzi might have elbow dysplasia, a debilitating and inherited flaw in large breed dogs. Arthroscopic surgery on the damaged left elbow joint might give her a better shot at long-term quality of life. As usual, whether for dogs or humans, the medical “solution” held no guarantees.

When we left the appointment at the University of California Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital, with our dogly dog bouncing and bounding (and ever so slightly limping) beside us, I knew precisely what we faced in our future.


Though every part of my being focused on the surgical vet’s descriptions, two months later, back at UC Davis, my wife and I disagreed about the sequence of events. I was confident that Kynzi would be “knocked out” for a CT scan, followed by the surgeon immediately reviewing the results with us. If necessary, Kynzi would head to the operating table while still “asleep.”

My wife said, “No. The surgery will happen tomorrow. The doctor told us they only did scheduled operations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

“No, it’ll happen right away. That’s what the vet said.”

No. Yes.

Now. Tomorrow.

Sigh, my wife was right again!

But I’d listened so carefully, seeking to understand everything expected of our puppy and us!

Wrong was I!

How can that be? How could I get the “facts” mixed up?

We hear what we want to hear.

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Jesus, filled with the Spirit according to Luke, stood before his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He read from Isaiah’s startling and challenging words.

His was a ministry on the verge.

His was a message God-drenched and divinely inspired.

Help the poor.

Release the prisoners.

Let the blind see.

Liberate the oppressed.

These are literal statements. These are metaphoric statements. These are the narrow, rocky pathways of a vibrant faith.



Transformational . . .

Except that we hear what we want to hear.

Let the poor pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. If I can make it in the world, so can everyone else.

Release the prisoners? Let’s leash them! Let’s build more prisons; those that do wrong should be punished.

Let the blind see? Sure, but not on my dime. Oh, well, maybe this is one to read figuratively. So of course, let those blind to Christianity have their “eyes” opened . . . as long as what they see and then do matches my faith, my way of believing.

Liberate the oppressed? Speaking of oppressed, that’s exactly how I feel. Don’t I deserve a break? A raise? Why have laws protecting people of color or age or sexual orientation or other religions? That’s not fair . . . to me! How come all the terrorist-wannabes, job-stealers, and baby-makers immigrate here? Keep ‘em out, build a wall.

Jesus bothers me. No . . . frightens me.

The Nazarene’s demands for discipleship today are too easy to understand, too easy to accomplish, and threaten the self-centered, safe parts of me that I cling to. Tomorrow I’ll try to act more fully human, more fully a neighbor, and more open to God’s call. Maybe.

You bet I nearly always—always—interpret Jesus based on my selective hearing.

And yet, thanks be to God, there’s another voice. Usually soft. Oft ignored. Persistent, even pesky. That voice seeks to lovingly, honestly transform me.

Home, a few days after surgery . . .
Home, a few days after surgery . . .

After telling my wife exactly what would happen to our puppy—when I was wrong—she didn’t belittle me. She didn’t flash a nasty I-told-you-so look. She simply walked alongside me (and the puppy), supportive and helping us focus on the real needs of right now. She is the best voice in my life.

I believe there’s another voice as Jesus boldly, brashly proclaims the good news: for those back then in the synagogue and for me, right now. The best voice in my faith is a whisper, a nonjudgmental nudge.

Oh how I need God’s Spirit alongside me, exposing my vanity, my vulnerability, and my fears.

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  1. For this particular day in my life, this is just what I needed to read, ponder, and understand. Thank you, Larry.

  2. Larry, I’m so discouraged today after the debate on Wednesday night, the rancor that has broken out since that I don’t have anything to say, really! To believe we have sunk this low since I was a youngster is astonishing to me. Is it me growing old or is it a changing society to a meaner, more destructive bent. Your piece convinced me we are all broken people, we all carry the dark side.

    You are my favorite soothsayer but even you can’t help today. I am even sad for your dog and I haven’t ever met him and yet I am crying.

    1. John . . . thanks for your thoughts (and even tears) about my puppy. It’s a strange and tough time as we try to keep her “calm.”

      It doesn’t surprise me that you’re discouraged by the Republican debate. These modern “debates” are more media events, with supposedly mature people acting like high school jerks. They yell. They disparage. They incite fears. I say, avoid watching!

      Though I wish my words had been more comforting to you, we are a broken people, we do (all of us) carry that “dark side.”

      However you are not alone with your anger and frustration. But I also believe your reactions are borne from being a good person and authentically caring for others. You watch the debate, or witness other events where fear and vitriol are the first choices, and cringe. You know we (and those desperate-for-votes candidates) can and should do better. Still, how can our tears not flow at all the anguish and anger in the world?

      Take a walk in the lovely woods near your home, my friend. Clear your mind and heart. Relish the healing power of a tramp through nature, of a winter forest preparing for spring.

  3. Hi, Larry! First of all Happy New Year, even though we are most of the way through January. Thanks again for your words of perception. What we see and hear can be so limited and filtered through our experience, both conscious and unconscious. How we need to hear such words of Jesus many times over before we finally hear them as they are. All good wishes and see you on Facebook!

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