“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mk 4: 9, 23)
Let us contemplate on the two phrases repeated in the messages the Lord sent to the seven churches in Asia: 'I know your works', and "He who has ears to hear, let him hear".
They are messages to everybody:
God sends His word to all people: the righteous and the wicked, those who love Him and those who left their first love! He sent a word even to the angel of the church in Sardis to whom He said, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead," (Rev 3: 1) and to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans to whom He said, "You are neither cold nor hot ... I will vomit you out of My mouth." (Rev 3: 15, 16)
Everybody in the world certainly receives a message from God.
The Lord may speak within one's heart and mind, and send a suitable word by any means, maybe a book, a sermon, or a piece of advice! Did He not speak even to Cain and warn him before he killed his brother, saying, "Sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Gen 4: 7) He likewise sent a message to Balaam!
You cannot say that God's voice did not come to you, for "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son." (Heb 1: 1,2)
He may speak to some by visions or dreams, though not all of them are from God! To others He spoke in person, as to the prophets, and to others through the angels or the apostles whose words have gone to the end of the world (Ps 19). In some cases God speaks through preaching, as St. Paul says, "as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5: 20). He speaks to everybody through the holy inspiration, for the Holy Scripture is God's word to you.
God's word to you may be for blessing, comforting, teaching, or for warning.
Ask yourself continually what God's word to you is! You hear much from people, but which is God's word? The Lord sent a special word to each of the angels of the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, and Laodicea.
The commandment in the Scripture:
The words "He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" were repeated seven times in the Revelation (Rev 2, 3). The Lord also said them on many occasions: after speaking about John the Baptist, after the Parable of the Sower, after explaining the Parable of the wheat and tares (Mt 11: 15; Mt 13: 9, 43; Mk 4: 9, 22), after saying that nothing from outside can defile man, and when speaking about the salt that loses its flavor (Mk 7: 15; Lk 14: 34).
They are comforting words:
They mean that the Holy Spirit still speaks to the churches, still works within us and guides us to all truth, bringing to our remembrance all things that the Lord said to us (Jn 16: 13; 14: 26).
The ears for hearing:
Some people had ears that heard, obeyed, and responded, like Abram the father of the fathers to whom God said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house," and again, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love … and offer him there as a burnt offering." (Gen 12, 22) Abram obeyed without arguing! Lot likewise heard and obeyed the angel who said to him, "Get out of this place. Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain." (Gen 19)
Foremost of those who hear and obey God's words are the angels. The Psalmist says, addressing them, "Bless the Lord, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word." (Ps 103: 20) No sooner do they hear His word, than they carry it out, be it for saving people or punishing them.
We also should hear God's word, and do His will, as we say in prayer, "Let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". We should have ears that hear.
Among the Lord's disciples who heard the word and responded were: Matthew (Levi), who was sitting at the tax office, and when he heard the words, “Follow Me” he arose and followed Him (Mt 9: 9), and Peter and his brother Andrew, who immediately left their nets and followed Him upon hearing the words, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mk 1: 17, 18). John and his brother James did the same, also Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9). The Lord Christ therefore blessed His disciples, because they had ears that hear. It is because some have ears but do not hear, like many who were contemporaries to the Lord. The examples are many and the reasons likewise are.
Ears that do not hear:
The first ears that did not hear were those of Adam and Eve.
They heard the commandment, remembered it very well, but did not obey and did the opposite completely (Gen 3)! The word of the serpent prevailed over God's word and was more influential and tempting than that of God, which they seemed as if they did not hear it at all. Be on guard then lest anybody takes it away, as in the Parable of the Sower, when some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them (Mt 13: 4). The word may come to the ears through an advice or a sermon, by which one is affected, then someone comes and takes away the word, leaving his own influence on you!
Cain heard God's warning, but seemed not to have heard it, for there were certain emotions in the heart that prevailed over God's word!
The feelings of envy, malice and wrath in his heart were like a strong barrier that prevented the word from entering. The mind was involved with the voice of hatred and distress in the heart.
Though God warned Cain, the inner emotions prevented him from hearing, and he immediately went and killed his brother.
Be on your guard then against your inner emotions and their domination over you.
The young man who had learnt the commandments from his young age, on hearing the words of the Lord went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mt 19: 22). The lust in the heart prevented him from receiving the word! It is like a person who is ready to hear anything from you, except one thing only, which is his weak point or lust! Solomon the Wise received wisdom from God, but could not prevent himself from the lust for women and marriage of foreign women. His heart was not fully faithful to the Lord as was his father (1 Kgs 11: 1- 10).
If you discover that your ear does not hear, find the reason, go to the physician, or rather to the heart physician to reveal the lusts in your heart. Some people do not obey their parents, or the commandment and the church, or even the law, because of a lust in the heart which they want to fulfill, and which shuts the ears against hearing.
Sometimes not hearing may be due to hard-heartedness.
That is why the Scripture says, “Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Heb 3: 15) Pharaoh was of this type. He could not hear all God's warnings, nor did all the strikes that befell him affect him. Although he cried out to Moses and Aaron and promised more than once, he returned to his old way.
Hard-heartedness leads to stubbornness, which in turn prevent from hearing the word.
Stubbornness shuts the heart and the mind, and makes a person deaf to any useful or convincing words said! Stubbornness involves a kind of pride. A humble and meek person therefore can hear, accepts reproach when wrong, and corrects his way.
Heretics had ears that did not hear, being shut by stubbornness and pride.
Arius for instance did not listen to the voice of his patriarch, or to the voice of the local council held in Alexandria, formed of one hundred bishops. Nor did he listen to the arguments of St. Athanasius, nor to the decisions of the ecumenical council. His stubbornness and pride shut his ears, and he died as a heretic in his self-conceit and insistence.
This may apply to every theological dialogue.
You may speak to someone but find him arguing, even before you finish your words. His tongue is quicker than his ears, and he does not want to listen or to be convinced. Anybody who holds to his own views is like a solid rock with no hole to penetrate!
The same applies to a person sensitive to his own dignity. He may consider any advice hurting, and feeling his fault he becomes annoyed. Such a person is not ready to listen, because listening requires humbleness. Therefore, not always reproach is fruitful, for when you blame a humble person you can win him, but the proud may become worse.
King Herod could not listen to the word of John the Baptist that it was not lawful for him to have his brother's wife (Mt 14: 4). Though it was an explicit divine commandment concerning marriage, considering it uncleanness (Lev 18: 16; 20: 21), yet Herod did not listen, because the temptation of Herodias prevented him, as did the temptation of Delilah to Samson who was a Nazirite to God (Judges 13: 7)
Another factor that hinders the influence of the Lord's word on a person was that:
Another love prevailed over God's love and prevented the ear from hearing. How many times do we hear the word of God in the lections and sermons every Holy Mass, but as if we heard nothing! People are the same in every generation; the Jewish people heard continually the blessings on Mount Gerzim and the curses on Mount Ebal, but they were indifferent! The Lord Christ spoke to the Jewish scholars, but they heard not in spite of the convincing power of His words, and they held to their views! The literality and wrong traditions and teachings of their fathers prevented them from hearing. There also might have been feelings of envy in the hearts that urged them to try to get rid of the Lord Christ rather than listen to His words.
Fear also shuts the ear against hearing.
Pilate of Pontius was convinced that Christ was innocent, and said he had found no reason for death in Him! (Lk 23: 22) His wife also warned him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Mt 27: 19) However, he did not listen, because fear prevented him; fear from complaint to Caesar against him, and fear for his position. It is the same fear that prevented King Agrippa from listening to the preaching of St. Paul the Apostle, saying, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26: 28). If he had embraced Christianity, he would have lost his royal rank.
Some people cause the others to live in fear: threatening them if they speak or try to escape, they will reveal their plotting, or if they do not obey them, they will cause them troubles. With such fear, no advice will avail them; they seem as if not hearing. Fear has shut their ears.
Another reason that prevents the ears from listening is recklessness and indifference.
The people of Sodom received with mockery the advice of Lot to go out of the city before destroying it, and to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking (Gen 19: 14). Likewise, when Paul the Apostle spoke in Athens, they mocked him, saying, “What does this babbler want to say?” (Acts 17: 18) It was a kind of recklessness, instead of listening they turn the matter into joking!
Some others do not hear because they walk between two ways.
When King Ahab heard a word from Elijah, Jezebel could do him brainwashing and turn him the other side. Therefore, if you want to give yourself the chance to hear, keep away from the atmosphere that may drive you away. Do not be like one who listens to a sermon but does not benefit of it because of his friends' influence.
The hardest example of not hearing is Judas, because treachery prevented him from listening.
Although the Lord warned him so many times, treachery and lust for money shut his ears. Because the heart was defiled, the ears could not hear and became defiled! In order that your ears may hear, you ought to have the desire to hear, the earnestness to obey, and the longing to hear even though you have to give your life for that. If the divine voice comes to you, keep it in your heart and your intention as St. Anthony did on hearing the Lord's word, and fulfill it immediately, earnestly and directly.
Let us examine ourselves and see how many times we heard and did not act, as if we have not heard!