“Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matthew 13:9). The first skill that we need in order to learn anything is the skill of attentiveness. One of the vital senses we possess for learning anything is the sense of hearing. In Matthew’s 13th chapter, Jesus is teaching the crowds and his disciples with parables, stories using metaphors to get their point across. The first one he tells is the parable of the Sower of Seeds.
This parable is simple in its images, but very complex in its meaning. The images point to the challenging truth that Jesus desires the crowds, his disciples, and us to understand. He ends the telling of this parable with the mysterious admonition, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” To put it another way: Are you listening? Are you paying attention to what I am saying? Do you understand?
Each of us is one of the people in the crowd that Jesus is speaking to here. We must ask ourselves, “When I read this parable or any of the scriptures, am I truly listening?” “Am I truly present to the Word, to the Spirit speaking to me through the scriptures at this moment?” If not, what in me might be in the way of my understanding? If it challenges me, do I reject it because it is too difficult, or say to myself that it doesn’t apply to me? Or do I hear Jesus’ saying to me in the midst of my fears, doubts, and confusions; “Whoever has ears ought to hear”?
In other words, am I fertile enough soil to “hear” his words, the “seeds” that Jesus is attempting to sow in me as I read scripture? Are the ears of my heart really attentive, am I truly listening?” Am I, at this moment, the footpath, or the rocky ground, where the seed tries to take root but there is not enough of “soil” in me for it to do so. Though I hear, I don’t understand, or I ignore it because it is too hard, or because it challenges me to change my ways and I don’t want to change. Or, do the “thorns” of the world’s endless distractions and temptations have my ear more than Jesus does?
The key word in Jesus’ admonition here in this parable is the word, “ought.” This word implies things like responsibility and duty, or obligation. I ought to bring my whole self to the scriptures, and to my prayer. I need to bring not just my physical ears, but the ears of my heart and soul to the scripture I am reading at this moment. If I do this I am working the “soil” of my heart and my soul. I am working on becoming “rich soil”. This is my obligation to Christ who gave his all, his everything for my salvation. He is casting his “seeds” of holy wisdom into me each time I read the scriptures, or when I hear them read in church. If I want to follow him, I need to work on becoming “rich soil”, deep enough that his words can take root in me. I do this by being more present, more attentive, and listening more intently. I need to tune out all of the distractions of the world, so that I can hear and understand his words.
The truth is that when I have “ears that hear” Jesus’ words, they do change me, they cause me to desire and to choose to live differently than I may be living now. This is why I need to deepen the soil of my soul, so that I can not only accept Jesus’ word, but begin to live it openly and courageously in a world that is so often more like the footpath, or the rocky ground, and is thick with the “thorns” of its worldly distractions and temptations. Jesus desires to fill the world with the rich soil of true disciples. He is calling each of us to be the fertile soil that bears holy fruit and yields new disciples 100, or 60 or 30 fold. “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”