One of the defining moments, for me, from the inauguration of the new President and Vice-President of the USA, was the poem by the nation’s Youth Poet Laureate – Amanda Gorman. It included the lines, ‘For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.’
In that moment, Amanda Gorman joined a line of young people speaking truth to our world, joining the likes of Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg, prepared to speak and to be heard. However, in this age of 24-7 news and social media, we can be bombarded by voices and opinions some of which are not always positive. It can leave us with the thought, who do I listen to and who are my loved ones listening to?
Although our context is different, the question of which voices to listen to is not new. Deuteronomy is set when the people of God are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. There they would encounter peoples different to themselves, who would have different practices and beliefs. In light of this, God instructs the people that they are not to listen to those new voices – however exciting and exotic they might sound. Rather, God would raise up prophets in the footsteps of Moses who would speak God’s word. There would be others falsely claiming to speak truth, so everybody had the responsibility to weigh up the words of the prophet against what is known of God, to determine if these words were true or not.
In the time of Jesus, there was still concern for knowing which voices and opinions to trust. Teachers of the Law would often quote teachings of earlier scribes and rabbis, rather than express their own opinions, as these had already been judged to hold value. Yet when Jesus entered the synagogue and began teaching, he did not quote the words of others – but taught in his own words. Yet those who heard him were struck that these words rang true, he taught with one who had real authority.
We, too, are faced with the same issue – which voices do we listen to. Not just about what is going on in the world, but about our faith as well. There’s a plethora of books, YouTube videos, social media posts, about what we should believe and how we should live as people of God – so which do we follow? We are called to weigh all that we hear against what we know about Jesus. Do the assertions ring true to our understanding of Christ? This goes not just for what has been written recently, but also other passages of Scripture that we might read as well. Regardless of the size of a person’s following, this should be the primary criteria – can we imagine Jesus speaking like this, or using these words? If the answer is no, then however popular that person might be, or even however much their views may resonate with how we are currently thinking, we should be cautious about listening to such views.
It can be hard assessing modern views against Scripture that was written 2,000 years ago in a very different context. However, the good news is, that Jesus continues to speak, even today. He speaks to us as we prayerfully consider his Scripture on our own and with others; he speaks to us as we sit in silence or go for our daily exercise, he speaks to us as we confer with others – it is why being connected to one another is so important.
So today, and in the weeks to come, make time to listen for the voice of Jesus in the midst of all the other voices. Maybe join our Lent Bible study group (more details to follow soon), or commit to phoning or zooming and talking with others from church about matters of faith. But know that Jesus wants to speak with you his words of grace and mercy, and for those words to guide your life of faith in the world.
Rev Nik Wooller