When it comes to our Lord Jesus Christ, do we say “Listen to Him” or rather “Listen to Him”? Words can convey different meanings sometimes! The emphasis you put on certain words or phrases when spoken or emphasized in text can change their meaning entirely.
Take the word “whatever”. In one context “whatever” can convey urgency or quite the opposite as in “whatever it takes” as opposed to saying “whatever” in a manner which suggests indifference or apathy. You can convey urgency or apathy from the same word depending on its context and the nuance with which it is spoken.
In a similar way one can use another phrase regarding Jesus. The phrase “Listen to Him” is uttered most memorably by God the Father with loving praise for His Divine Son our Lord Jesus Christ in what we call Christ’s Transfiguration.
This incident was memorable enough to be chronicled in three Gospels and even one New Testament letter (from Saint Peter). (Matt 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36; 2 Pet 1:16-18)
Thus, we read in scripture how Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain, traditionally identified as Mount Tabor in Lower Galilee. St. Luke adds the detail that our Lord went there to pray, and that as He was praying, in line with the other two Gospel accounts, He was transfigured before them and His whole countenance and garments became dazzlingly bright white.
Suddenly His three apostles saw Jesus engaging in conversation with Moses and Elijah, the great Old Testament representatives of the Law and the Prophets respectively!
Peter, while no doubt in great awe and possibly even a little flabbergasted at the scene unfolding before him, suggested making three booths (tent like structures normally used during the yearly Jewish Feast of Booths also called the Feast of the Tabernacles) to honor our Lord and His two strikingly noble guests.
Then suddenly as if this moment wasn’t awe-inspiring enough, the three apostles were overshadowed by a bright cloud, out of which came a voice, that of God the Father saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (emphasis added) (Matt 17:5).
Although the change in emphasis of this particular phrase doesn’t appear in scripture, the sentiment it evokes was clearly expressed more than once during Jesus’ earthly ministry. "Listen to Him" becomes "Listen to Him". An exhortation to worship our Lord becomes instead an invitation to scorn, dismiss, or perhaps ridicule Him.
After all, didn’t Simeon declare when our Lord was presented in the Temple as a little baby that He would be a sign that would be contradicted? As Jesus went about Galilee and Judea proclaiming the Gospel and the good news of the New Covenant, the Word made flesh was truly, “mighty in word and deed before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19) as the disciples on the road to Emmaus would later describe Him.
These included as recorded in the four Gospels such supernatural miracles as taming the winds and the waves with just a rebuke, thinking water into wine, healing the sick in some cases with just a touch or a thought, and exorcisms.
And yet, in spite of all these blessed occurrences Jesus encountered much skepticism, and in many cases outright hostility, from those Pharisees and others, religious and non religious alike, that we read about in the Gospels. Ultimately this resistance to Him culminated in His brutal and Sorrowful Passion for our salvation.
Here are some examples of scorn and animosity that Christ encountered. Instead of God the Father’s ultimate imprimatur Listen to Him, imagine in whatever other language or circumstances the response being rather the equivalent of Listen to Him.
Probably one of the most famous of these is the reaction of numerous disciples who left Jesus after He told them that His flesh was food and His blood drink indeed in the Bread of Life Discourse; and that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life within you (John 6:54 and 56).
Admittedly before our Lord fully revealed it within its Eucharistic context at the Last Supper that might have sounded strange enough for them to reply as some did as recorded in St. John’s Gospel’ “This saying is hard. Who can listen to it?” (John 6:60) Or in other words “Listen to Him”
We also read in Mark’s Gospel how at one point his friends, called “relatives” in the New American Bible version of the text, sought to seize Him in reaction to His preaching and teaching, thinking that He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21). Again, "Listen to Him".
And for one more example, we have the reaction to our Lord’s moving Good Shepherd discourse we seem to have which He concluded by saying in John 10:17-18:”For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father".
We read that many of the Jews who heard this (but happily not all) asked "He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him?" (John 10:20) Again, "Listen to Him".
And yet...while thankfully enough people headed in effect the words of His Father "Listen to Him", instead of those scoffers and enemies who would say “Listen to Him” that with God’s assistance through the Holy Spirit our faith grew over the years from twelve apostles to over a billion members today!
Still, over the past few decades, as the faith has become somewhat diluted, we seem to have too many people these days saying of our Lord’s teachings, and His church’s dogmas “Listen to Him" in outright rejection or simply disinterested disbelief.
It is worth noting here, regarding those who might have thought of questioning our Lord's sanity, the noted author C.S. Lewis’ comment in his great book Mere Christianity. He wrote there that Jesus was never meant to be taken as just some wise teacher, and not who He said He was, the Son of God.
If this were not true, He would indeed, as Lewis put it so memorably, might as well have been going around during His earthly ministry saying “I am a poached egg”. He never left us that option, for Him to be considered as just some wise teacher, in the first place.
And so, taking Jesus at His Word as being “True God from True God” as we say in the Nicene Creed at Mass on Sundays let us all say at various times during the day and in both the joyful and sorrowful events in our lives “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”, as the prophet Samuel did as recorded in one of the Old Testament books bearing his name (1 Sam 3:9-10).
Let us also follow the advice of God the Father at Mount Tabor, when He said of His Son "Listen to Him" As we read or have heard sung perhaps at mass this wonderful line from Psalm 95: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”