I am presently reading a huge book of fiction where a nineteenth century Hungarian politician is introduced to us as having “an enormous mouth which seemed to have become over-developed perhaps by the tremendous number of words that were constantly emerging from it.” This made me stop to think and to wonder at our ambivalent relationship with words. Often we dismiss them as just so much hot air but occasionally we want to pin people down with the “but you said” that children say and actually so do a lot of grown ups.
This morning we are contemplating our relationship not with other people’s words but with God’s word. These are of course special and singularly worthy of contemplation. Many Bibles including the one in front of me now use red ink for Jesus’ words to highlight this which means that almost all the reading which we have heard from Matthew is in red. I was struck by how using a parable to explain how words work becomes self referencing. A parable is itself a particular type of word - they do not work directly but need to be listened to, sucked on slowly like a sweet in the mouth, allowed to develop as a seed in fertile ground. This parable of the sower is about the quality of our listening. The second half of the reading uses the word “hear” five times in as many sentences. We are prompted to ask how well do we listen to God’s word, should we not listen to it more carefully and thoughtfully than to an Hungarian politician say?
But then we might ask, “How do we know what God’s word is?” Even if our ground is not paved, rocky or thorny how can we be sure that the interpretation we have made from our fertile earth is sound? It is a puzzle and archbishops, bishops and theologians use words like discernment or seeking to understand to describe it. They appointed working groups to develop the Living in Love resources that we are all waiting for (Now postponed to November by the way)
It seems it is more difficult to discover God’s word than simply looking for the red ink.
But let us return to Isaiah. Chapter 55 begins with an invitation, an invitation to everyone that says let everyone who thirsts come to the waters and includes the lines:
“Listen to me and eat what is good, incline your ear and come to me, listen so that you may live.”
Isaiah is so sure about God’s word : “my word that goes out of my mouth shall not return empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
And what is the purpose:
“For you shall go out in joy and go out in peace, the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
Listen carefully says Isaiah, and I want to add that if what we discern does not meet the invitation to everyone and does not bring joy then it most likely is not the word of God we are hearing.