About 10 years ago, the Washington Post newspaper conducted an experiment. It involved Joshua Bell, one of the world’s premier violinist – who has made several guest appearances with our own Kansas City Symphony.
Joshua was commissioned by the Post to play his Stradivarius violin, valued at more than four million dollars – at the Metro Center subway stop – one of the busiest stops in the Washington D.C. subway system.
So he dressed like a homeless person, in very worn and dirty clothes, sat on the station floor – and played for 45 minutes with his violin case open to accept donations.
The Washington Post had a hidden camera to video the entire event – watching how people interacted – or more accurately – did not interact with Mr. Bell.
Out of the 1,197 people who passed him, only seven stopped to listen – instead of just rushing by — and no one tried to interact with him.—either to give him a compliment or ask how he was doing. He did receive a whopping $12.17 in tips.
Now remember this is a man who would have earned probably 1,000 times that amount had he been in a tuxedo playing at the Kennedy Center for 45 minutes — rather than rags in the subway.
The story would be an excellent illustration of what St. James tells us in the second reading – about giving preference to the well dressed and the well to do. But I prefer to use the story to bring some understanding to the Gospel.
I presume those 1,197 people who passed by Joshua Bell had good hearing – but their ability to listen wasn’t very well developed – at least not in the area of music. . .
Jesus healed a man in today’s gospel who was deaf. What a gift Jesus gave him. This man could now suddenly hear – how amazing that must have been for him!
But he had some catching up to do when it came to knowing how to listen – how to recognize, for example, sounds that warned of danger, or how to recognize not only words – but also nuances in the tone of a person’s voice. He had to learn how to recognize the sounds in nature, and how to learn what certain phrases that are not to be taken literally mean – like, “ I am so hungry I could eat a one-humped camel” – remember he lived in Galilee!
We who have always had our hearing – sometimes aren’t very good listeners. . . This happens in families a lot: husbands not listening to wives, and parents not listening to children –
and wives who don’t listen to their husbands and children who aren’t listening to their parents. We hear – but we don’t listen. . . and that causes a few problems.
Not being a good listener happens in the Church – which is one way to explain the whole abuse crisis – people told the truth but they weren’t listened to, or no one wanted to act on the truth and chose, instead, to ignore it. And this took place in the Church because it also takes place in families —- And that, of course, causes a few problems.
And not being a good listener happens in our relationship with God. God always hears us — but we do not always hear God. And that causes a few problems.
That’s why we need to keep reading the Scriptures over and over and over again – because we can always hear something new or something different – or even hear something for the first time – and then, as St. James reminded us last week – we have to be doers of the word and not just hearers of the word.
That’s why we need to get away from all the noise in our lives from time to time – because there is always so much noise around us –
that it drowns out the still quiet voice of God. . . When our thoughts and attention is always being pushed and pulled by all the noise around us – those words of God can never break through – and that causes problems.
Notice two details of this healing story told to us by St. Mark. . .
FIRST – the deaf man’s friends brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus to lay his hands on him. WE NEED friends and people in our lives who can lead us to Jesus by their faith — and sometimes we have to be the person who leads others to Jesus.
And SECOND – notice when Jesus healed the man he took him aside – away from the crowd. We need to get away from the crowd, off by ourselves, a little each day just to spend some quiet time with the Lord.
Quiet time has always been so important to me – in and out of the monastery. . . It helps me keep going through difficult times. It helps in giving me ideas when I have an issue I can’t figure out, inspiration week after week to preach, helping me with what I need to say to a person needing help – and allowing me to experience God’s loving presence.
Jesus worked many miracles of healing and he still does. In the gospels we read he healed people because of his compassion, or in response to a request, or in response to faith – all to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is present and in our midst. Jesus healed people to show in a visible way the blessing he wants to give to us.
Today, Jesus helped this man to hear – and in doing so he shows us his primary mission was – to teach us how to hear and listen to God. Let us ask God to open the ears of our hearts to his word and to his love — so that we can be doers of the word: making God’s kingdom presence and in our midst by our words and actions.