Eyes and Ears

“‘In America, we are blind because even though we have eyes, we cannot see. We are deaf because even though we heave ears, we cannot hear.'” Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, p. 187

This quote is from a Hmong immigrant speaking of emigrating to America from Thai refugee camps post-Vietnam War. Even though they were in the Land of Opportunity, they could find none. Men who once controlled regiments of soldiers were now struggling to find jobs as janitors.

The quote is reminiscent of a passage from the Bible in which Jesus exhorts to the crowd, “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15). This statement seems a bit odd, but so do a lot of Jesus’s other statements. It appears that Jesus is telling the crowd to use their ears. Moreover, he’s telling people (whom usually have ears) to hear things. Uh, duh? Is that really profound, Jesus? Was that really necessary of your precious breath and time?

However, when read in light of Fadiman’s quote above, perhaps we can understand Jesus’s exhortation as a necessity for education or awareness. In the passage, Jesus is talking about prophecies and a guy named John. According to Jesus, John had been prophesied earlier in Israel’s history. It’s all old things. Which is probably why Jesus is telling people, “If you want to understand this, you need to learn and study it.” Likewise, when the Hmong man above was talking about having eyes and ears, yet being blind and deaf, he was poetically saying that he could not learn.

This, of course, translates well outside of a biblical context. We have eyes and ears, but do we see and hear?

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