The Latin roots of the word “obey” mean, literally, to hear in the direction of, to turn our ears toward, or—more simply— to listen.
Listening, though, is a challenge. When God speaks, we may hear something we aren’t ready for, a message that might be difficult to accept. To hear and obey may cost us something.
But listening is not just a one-way street: God also listens to us. After running away from God’s call, Jonah rejoices that the Lord would deign to hear him:
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help, and you heard my voice.
Because God hears us, relationship with God is possible. God calls us to obedience precisely because God yearns for this relationship with us. Our relationship with God, like our human relationships, is based on listening.
So where can we hear God’s voice? Today’s Gospel tells us where to look—to the man on the side of the road, to the community we shun. We hear God by turning our ears toward people we would rather turn away from.
Saints listen to God in the despised, the weak and marginalized—in the Ninevites and Samaritans, in those cast aside by the world. St. Francis of Assisi was so attuned to God’s voice that he heard God everywhere, particularly in those silenced and misunderstood—lepers, beggars, and even animals. May we follow his example of listening to God in all of creation—particularly in what is hard for us to hear.