A Theological Reflection on Jesus the Listener
“Jesus the Listener” is the title given to a crucifix representing Jesus hanging on the cross, still alive, leaning forward, in a posture of listening. Jesus is portrayed wit his eyes open looking forward and asking everyone, as it were: Speak to me, I am listening”
Those of us who are Christians believe, as a matter of Faith, that Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, that He died on the cross and rose from the dead three days later.
Most representations of this great event, portrays Jesus as dead on the cross. There are some, both in paintings and sculptures that represent Jesus still alive on the cross, but these representations do not focus the thoughts of the onlooker in any particular way.
This new representation of Jesus on the cross alive and looking at us makes a specific statement that for us becomes a theological insight since it speaks of God and the way He acts.
The fundamental statement and meaning of the act of crucifixion is that precisely in this act of self-surrender on the part of Jesus God the Father redeems the universe. Jesus is at the same time the sacrificial lamb and the High Priest offering himself on the altar of the cross to expiate our sins. “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Jesus dies so that we may live as children of God restored to our original friendship with God that we had lost through original sin.
With the creation of man and woman God brought to completion his first act of investment. He had already created spiritual beings and He had created matter in calling into existence the physical universe. In the creation of man and woman He crowned all that existed and made his act of creation even more daring by empowering human beings to share in the governing of the material world. “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth’” (Gen1:28).
This was something new. God had not given the same power sharing capacity to the spiritual beings he had created. The investment God was making in humanity possessing life and a free will to administer it and everything else there was around human creatures was total and full of potentials.
The crucifixion of Jesus and his death on the cross was the event in the eternal plan of God that brings to completion the second act of investment on the part of God. As it was with the first, so it is with the second act of God’s investment. It is total and eternal.
With the death of Jesus God speaks his final word of what He thinks of life and of us. He stops at nothing. With and through the Passion and Death of Jesus on the cross, God reconfirms his first commitment to us and shows that his love is not temporary, but eternal.
The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is God’s seal on all that Jesus has done to show us the meaning of the Father’s love for us. All that Jesus had said and done, including and especially his Passion, Death and Resurrection are salvific acts because they were acts of eternal love carried out to fulfill the eternal plan of the Father. “Tell me, if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too” (1 Cor 15:12-14).
This crucifix that we call “Jesus the Listener”, together with all the other crucifixes that have been made by the artistic talents of men and women, makes theological statements over and above the physical suffering obviously manifested at first sight. In Jesus the Listener we are led to new and fresh theological insight. Here we are in the presence of a kind of mystery that is at once impenetrable and yet visible. God comes to us as The One Who Listens to us.
From the first to the last pages of the Bible we are told that God gives purpose to everything He made. At the same time He gave us commands to be obeyed: “The Lord God gave man this order: ‘You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die’” (Gen 2:16-17).
A superficial impression that the relationship God wants to establish with us is a one-way affair, is quickly dispelled as we read the story of the flood at the time of Noah. We learn there that God is concerned about what is happening to humanity, takes steps to correct the situation and concludes his intervention by revealing that the relationship between Him and humanity is not one sided. God acts to prove it. “See, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: all the birds and the various tame and wild animals that were with you and came out of the ark. I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood: there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth” (Gen 9:9-11).
From this time on the relationship between God and us becomes even clearer with the establishment of a covenant with Abraham. “The Lord said to Abram: ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you” (Gen 12:1-3).
Through this revelation we clearly see how God has decided to deal with us. There is a true dialogue and God is truly listening. This moment in the history of Revelation becomes thematic for all the rest and it is normative for our understanding of who God is. He loves, He cares, He listens to all we are saying or even thinking. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8).
Yes, our God is a God who speaks to us and listens also. Our needs, our dreams, our hopes and failures are of concern to Him. Our God is a living and ever present God. There is nothing we think or say that escapes His attention or goes unanswered.
We need only look at the life of Jesus and His teaching to be totally confirmed in this fact. Every time anyone approached Jesus and made a request for oneself or for anyone else, Jesus always answered the request if it was accompanied with Faith. At times He answered those requests that were made in the privacy of one’s heart, such as the woman with the hemorrhage and the penitent woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee.
Throughout His life Jesus demonstrated that He was ever ready to listen and to respond to whatever concern was presented to Him. In so doing He reveals to us what is most fundamental in His relationship with us. He loves us with a love that is infinite, as befits His divinity, but He also shows us that His love is founded on true concern represented by His attentive listening.