After a brief exchange with John’s disciples, Jesus asked the attendant crowds a pointed question about their relationship to him: “What did you got out into the wilderness to see?” One’s aim in listening inevitably shapes what one hears. If it was the curiosity of a shaken reed or a soft-clothed man, they would have been disappointed; if it was the disbelief of the Pharisees, they would have been rebuked. But if it was humility to hear a prophet, “and more than a prophet”, they would have had ears to hear a kingdom come.
Locating one’s own motivation in going to the written Word is not unlike the crowds’. Our posture before the Bible demonstrates this hermeneutic of hearing. Do we go to the text to confirm what we have always thought? Or with a sense of dutiful obedience? Or to be informed? Who among us is not guilty of all of these?
And yet the Scriptures refuse to subordinate themselves to what we are willing to hear. It is the self-attested working, living, abiding, exposing, and equipping Word, burning like fire, breaking like a hammer, cutting like a sword, piercing like an arrow. In short, it is a restless Word. We are not observers but addressees being solicited on every page to respond. As such we cannot read without communion or community – without an ear cocked towards the Author and hands towards the church.
What did you go after the Word to see? To sit down to become learned or confirmed is to address a dead, impotent text foreign to the Bible; not unlike perusing a newspaper pulled from the recycling bin. But to humbly seek reorientation in every engagement is to read with ears to hear a kingdom come.