This is the Message given to Jeremiah for all the people of Judah. It came in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah. It was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
Jeremiah the prophet delivered the Message to all the people of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem:
From the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah right up to the present day—twenty-three years it’s been!—God’s Word has come to me, and from early each morning to late every night I’ve passed it on to you. And you haven’t listened to a word of it!
Not only that but God also sent a steady stream of prophets to you who were just as persistent as me, and you never listened. They told you, “Turn back—right now, each one of you!—from your evil way of life and bad behavior and live in the land God gave you and your ancestors, the land he intended to give you forever. Don’t follow the god-fads of the day, taking up and worshiping these no-gods. Don’t make me angry with your god-businesses, making and selling gods—a dangerous business!
“You refused to listen to any of this, and now I am really angry. These god-making businesses of yours are your doom.”
The verdict of God-of-the-Angel-Armies on all this: “Because you have refused to listen to what I’ve said, I’m stepping in. I’m sending for the armies out of the north headed by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, my servant in this, and I’m setting them on this land and people and even the surrounding countries. I’m devoting the whole works to total destruction—a horror to top all the horrors in history. And I’ll banish every sound of joy—singing, laughter, marriage festivities, genial workmen, candlelit suppers. The whole landscape will be one vast wasteland. These countries will be in subjection to the king of Babylon for seventy years.
“Once the seventy years is up, I’ll punish the king of Babylon and the whole nation of Babylon for their sin. Then they’ll be the wasteland. Everything that I said I’d do to that country, I’ll do—everything that’s written in this book, everything Jeremiah preached against all the godless nations. Many nations and great kings will make slaves of the Babylonians, paying them back for everything they’ve done to others. They won’t get by with anything.” God’s Decree. (The Message)
An ancient rabbi once said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we talk.
Listening with curious and focused attention is a forgotten skill and a lost art in Western society.
Slick marketing, political punditry, and over-the-top speech all scream into the culture because there is such a dearth of listening. It seems many people are more concerned to make their opinions known than do any kind of deep listening to another.
No one seems to want to put in the work of discovering another’s true thoughts, feelings, and needs. Instead, we’d rather rant, play armchair quarterback, and make uninformed comments on things we don’t understand.
It’s really downright sad and tragic that we fail to listen to each other. And it is especially terrible when we do not listen to God.
The Old Testament prophets exist because of a failure to listen. At the time of Jeremiah, not only did the people not hear; they refused to listen. They put their fingers in their ears and babbled “la-la-la-la-la.” So, it was only fitting that the Lord sent the people to Babylon.
This was not merely the inability to listen because they were overworked, too tired, or “hangry.” The problem was much deeper than that. For years, God kept up a steady stream of words, telling the people exactly what was expected. But they didn’t listen, on purpose. Like a parent speaking to an angsty teenager, it all went in one ear and out the other with nothing getting done.
God passionately desired the people to amend their evil ways. But they didn’t want to hear it.
So, after years, even centuries of unfaithfulness, unrighteousness, and injustice, God’s patience came to its limit. Tragedy happened. The Babylonian Exile became a terrible and harsh reality.
If there is no deep listening to God and God’s Word to us, there will be deep repercussions.
Listen, my friends: None of us can do the will of God if we don’t know what God wants. It takes listening. And listening takes focused attention. And focused attention requires a posture of humility. And humility requires being emptied of all pride and hubris.
Apart from genuine listening with the intent to understand and alter actions accordingly, there will be no peace, no love, no grace. The space of inattention quickly fills with lazy ears, emotional heaviness, spiritual sickness, xenophobic suspicion, anxious fear, dark thoughts, angry rants, and a retreat into selfish caring for oneself.
The beginning of wisdom and human flourishing starts with listening well. Paying attention through deep listening brings humility of heart, purification of pride, and love of God and neighbor.
Truly hearing the words of God leads to self-awareness, cries for God’s mercy, a knowledge of humanity, the study of Holy Scripture, and a familiarity with the Church’s long tradition of sound teaching.
Therefore, silence is vital for everyone. Prayer needs to be more about sitting still in solitude and silence in order to listen and much less about talking at God.
But if we insist on making more noise than a couple of skeletons dancing on a tin roof, we will eventually be those skeletons – without any substance and only good for the grave.
So, read the prophets. Listen to them. Pay attention to their message. And heed their warnings and exhortations. Your ears will be glad you did.
Holy Father and God of all, your speech goes out into all the earth. Your Word is there for us to hear if we will only but listen.
Lord Jesus, let your words and your teachings penetrate so deeply into my soul that your loving ways come out of me in all I say and do.
Blessed Holy Spirit, help me to so listen to your inner voice that encouragement and forgiveness pours forth from the wellspring of a heart which is baptized in God’s Word. Amen.