Sometimes, I’m not a good listener. Occasionally my mind will wander or my phone will distract me, but more often, I’m not a good listener because I’m thinking about how to react to what I’m hearing. It could be that I’m thinking through what I will say or how to relate to your story, but I also have to concentrate on my facial expressions. More than one friend has warned me never to play poker! Apparently, my thoughts and emotions are as plain as the nose on my face.
Not only am I a distracted listen-er, I am sometimes a distracted pray-er. After all, prayer is really a conversation, right?
I think there were times the disciples were also distracted listeners.
I like to think I would be a very good listener if Jesus were physically present and speaking to me, but the example of the disciples suggests maybe not.
Once, when Jesus and his disciples were passing through Galilee, Jesus tried to teach the disciples about what was coming. He told them: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again” (Mark 9:31).
It seems like the disciples stopped listening to Jesus part of the way through, hearing only the bad news.
It’s almost as if Jesus should have prefaced his teaching with the old favorite: “I’ve got good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?”
The disciples miss the good news. They’re probably thinking things like:
- What does he mean he’s going to be handed over?
- Is this part of “the plan”?
- How can we stop it?
- He’s doing such good and important work we have to keep him alive as long as possible.
Maybe some of them are thinking, “I can’t go back to fishing now, this work matters too much!”
This anxiety keeps the disciples from hearing that Jesus has already solved the very problem they are worried about and anxious over. He will be resurrected three days after he dies.
Because the disciples don’t understand what Jesus has said, they go into full-on distraction mode. They distract themselves from the hard thing Jesus has said by arguing over who among them is the greatest (Mark 9:33-34).
Although the writer of James wasn’t necessarily talking about the disciples when he wrote that “envy and selfish ambition” go hand-in-hand with “disorder and wickedness of every kind,” his words seem to apply here (James 3:16).
In a moment of anxiety, the disciples default to envy and selfish ambition.
Jesus, recognizing the anxiety the disciples feel, responds to their distraction technique in a beautiful way. He shifts their attention completely off of themselves!
They want to know who is the greatest, so he shows them. He invites a child into his arms and tells the disciples, “whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37).
Who is the greatest to Jesus? The one in the room with no power or authority. The one who is available to come and sit and listen!
It’s ironic, but the disciples are anxious about the idea of a life without Jesus and that anxiety makes them miss this moment with Jesus.
If I had been in the room, there’s a very good chance my face would have betrayed me. As Jesus welcomed the child into his lap, he might have seen recognition and regret on my face.
Jesus gathering the child into his arms is a poignant illustration of how to be fully present in the moment. Instead of letting my mind wander off to worry about what will happen next, I do much better to keep my attention on The One Who Loves Me.
What about you? Are you sometimes a distracted listener? Are you ever a distracted pray-er? How would you react as Jesus invited the child to sit with him? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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