For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truths and wander away to myths.
--From the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy
I am out of town and was not in church on Sunday, but I read the scripture passages for the day. The “itching ears” reference caught my attention. Not being a theologian like my colleagues, I’m left to ponder it on my own.
We know what it’s like to feel itchy; most of us have had poison ivy. We can’t get comfortable and we try to ignore the irritation. Scratching helps for an instant, but we continue to look for something that meets our needs and gives us relief. So I imagine “itching ears” would mean that we’re uncomfortable with what we’re hearing, ignoring those words until we hear something else to make us feel good.
Paul’s letters to Timothy are instructions on how to bring people to Jesus. I think he’s saying, “Listen, my friend, the story you want to share with these folks is powerful truth indeed… but it may not be what they want to hear.”
We live in an itching-ear world. I confess to moments of self-congratulation when I think the word of God sounds something like the word of Jo, so of course it must be true. We may “re-interpret” a piece of scripture or a prophetic voice, twisting and kneading it, until it says what we’d like it to say. We’re scratching our own ego-itch.
Yet God calls we imperfect people to be evangelists, like Timothy. We, by our baptismal covenant, are here to continue in the apostle’s teaching, persevere in resisting evil, and proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We recognize that the truth we embrace and share may sometimes be cherry-picked elements of faith that seem a little too comfortable. It’s hard work being a Christian, but it sure helps to be in community with other believers. Together, we try to hold each other accountable, teach each other, and shine a light on the dark places. By sharing our stories and the truth we discern, you and God and I come a little closer to sound doctrine, uncomfortable or not. We make each other more complete in faithfulness, a faith we can then proclaim.
St. Alban’s friends, we who are faithful, seekers, and doubters, let us be extravagant in our loving care of our truth—what we know for sure—and respectful of what we may not understand. Let us walk by faith together, itching for more of God’s Good News.