Hearing and Seeing

When I was 5 years old, I was legally blind in my left eye. I remember one time when I walked up to side of our kitchen table. The table stretched out to my right. My mom was sitting at the head of the table eating breakfast.
When you are 5, you can barely see over the table. As I stood at the edge of the table with my mom sitting to my left, I announced, “Mom! I can’t see out of my left eye!”

My dad, who was standing in the hallway, came over to the table. Together they asked me to close my right eye and to count the number of fingers I saw.

“One, two three,” I counted.

Every time, no matter how many fingers they put up, I could count them.

Jesus talked a lot about hearing and seeing in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13.

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

In most parables, that’s all we get.  We’re left wondering what is that supposed to mean? In this one we get a bit more, let’s keep going.

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Let’s dissect that a bit.  First the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables.  He tells them that the secret has been given to them.  Hold it right there.  What secret?  What is he talking about?  If we make a quick observation about the difference between all the people who just heard the first part of the story and the second part of the story we see that the disciples asked Jesus.  That’s the difference!  They asked!

Let’s go back to my story.  Occasionally complain that I couldn’t see out of my left eye, but I could always count the number of fingers.  Things didn’t change until my kindergarden eye exam revealed that I couldn’t see well with my left eye.  My parents scheduled an appointment at the eye doctor.  The tests revealed that I was legally blind in my left eye.  So why could I see when my parents would ask me to cover my right eye?

The short answer is that I had amblyopia. WHAT?
Amblyopia is a condition in which one eye is so bad and the other eye is so good that the brain literally shuts down the use of the bad eye.  As a growing boy, this was horrible!  My depth perception is horrendous.  I was right handed, so when I played baseball I had a tough time seeing the ball until it was almost on top of me!  I got in a snowmobiling accident because I couldn’t see the distance between my snow mobile and the one in front of me.  I tried to play basketball, but I couldn’t shoot the ball with any level of accuracy.

Sounds a bit like our passage here in Matthew 13.

13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Fortunately I was young. Amblyopia often results in permanent blindness. I had to wear a patch on my right eye for months. Eventually my eyesight came back and today I am no longer legally blind today!

Let’s think about the spiritual implications. If we don’t seek God, eventually we lose our ability to even hear or see God. As the passage says, “Though hearing they do not hear, Though seeing they do not see.”

So how are your senses? Are they dull? Have you been using them? If you heard God would you know it was Him? If you saw God, would you know it was Him? Have you experienced this for yourself? What about when you aren’t regularly reading or studying God’s word? What about when you aren’t praying? Does it seem like you stop hearing from God? Does it seem like even when you do hear God’s word it seems to pass in one ear and out the other? I know that is true for me.

The passage finishes with an explanation of the parable, a detailing of how we tend to derail our senses and ability to hear and see God!

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When people hear the message about the kingdom and do not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to people who hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to people who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to people who hear the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

This passage has two applications.
The first is for everyone, for yourself. Ask yourself which soil am I? Are you the path? You hear the word, but it makes no impact in your life? Are you the rocky soil? You hear, but when someone asks a tough question you abandon it? Are you the thorny soil? You hear, but the cares of homework, fun, work choke it out? Or are you the good soil? You hear the word and are responding to it.

When I study this passage with students it seems like the most common is the Thorny. We are busy people. If your like me, you want to be the good soil. What does it take to become good soil? Seek God! Be inquisitive. Join Small group Bible study. Find ways to connect with Jesus and exercise your senses. Ask someone to help you!

The second application is that we are the sowers. We are called to spread the word of God. We don’t know what kind of soil it will fall on so we need to spread the seed widely. The soils look similar. As we spread the word, we need to think about what barriers our friends our facing. What kind of soil is your friend. We need to get dirty and help pull up some thorns and dig up some rocks.

Spreading the word of God will help sharpen your senses too!

So how are you doing? Are you using your ears? How about your eyes?

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