“Living The Question” Sept. 16, 2018
Living The Question”
Proverbs 1:20-33/ James 3:1-12
Did you know – that in the Gospels, Jesus was asked 183 questions? And although Jesus himself asked 307 questions, he only answered 3 questions directly. So this leaves us with 487 unanswered questions. It’s no wonder that people will say to us, “You know, I been reading this Bible of yours, and I’m not getting a doggone thing out of it.” And if you press them – if you ask them why they figure they’re not getting anything out of reading this, the most popular, the most widely circulated book in the world – they might say something like, “I don’t know. It just seems like I got more questions now than when I started out.” But you know, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because, let’s face it, if you’re not asking questions, you’re not learning. And as much as I would like and as much as we would like to just know how this whole thing works – how it all fits together and makes sense – as much as we would like that, Jesus is aware that it won’t work that way. It won’t work that way because our faith and our relationship with Christ is never a done deal….a done deal where we can announce to the world that “Hallelujah, I’ve finally made it!” To love the question, to live the question: that’s what I’d like to talk about today.
Our Gospel text today is a classic example of asking the right questions. I am continually amazed whenever Margie tells me of how she deals with kids in trouble at her school. Whether it is a fight or theft or just plain meanness going on, the technique is the same: isolate the suspects and ask the right questions. What amazes me is that with the right questions – by living the question, if you will – she is not only able to get to the bottom of who did what, but she usually can bring about some kind of repentance in the process. Trust me, it takes some real skill to get two 5th grade boys who have sworn death to one another to finally shake hands and admit that maybe-just maybe- they might have made some bad choices in their behavior.
Therein lies the power of our Gospel text today: the power to change, the power to transform. (Mk 8:27) And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Now Mark doesn’t give us a lot of detail here, but I can’t help but imagine that his disciples jumped at this question. Think about it: after all the tricky parables and head scratching as to “what does he mean by that,” this one is easy. “Who do people say that I am?” In other words, “What’s the word on the street? What have you heard? What do the opinion polls say?” I can just imagine the enthusiasm as the disciples were all speaking at once, “People say you’re John the Baptist!” “No, no, they’re saying you’re Elijah!” And another hand goes in the air, “Some say you’re a prophet. That’s what they’re saying – a prophet.” Finally, a question that we know the answer to. Suddenly, I was in Mrs. Henline’s 5th grade math class and for some strange reason, she asked us something easy.
But here’s where it gets interesting. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t have a lot to say at this point – he neither confirms nor denies “what people say” about him. No, he simply listens to them as they offer up everything they think they know based on other people’s…expertise. And you know, as I got to thinking about this it started getting a bit personal. I mean, all we know is what we’ve been told, right? If I were to ask you right now, “Who do people say he is, this Jesus?” we would all have a wealth of information and sources to draw upon. The fact remains, we can always rattle off what others have said. We got this; we can answer this question.
But the zinger comes when Jesus then asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” and at this point I can just imagine the disciples standing in the middle of the road shuffling their feet and staring at the ground; all of them wondering who is going to say something first. Once again, this gets personal. This gets personal because as much as it is easy-breezy to recite the facts of what’s been said, it’s a different matter when we have to look inside and answer from the heart this question from the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords: “Who am I to you? Where do I stand in this life of yours? What do I mean…to you?” Now at this point, we might take the stance of Peter: “You are the Messiah.” In fact, we could even get downright belligerent about it, saying, “What are you talking about? Who is Christ to me? That’s easy. That is a heart-of-our-faith question. It’s a question that we as Christians know (and must know) the definitive answer to. Jesus is our Savior. He’s Lord, Redeemer, King, Messiah. There’s no mystery here. he is the way and the truth and the life.”
And yes, that is true – all these things. The writer Debie Thomas says it best when she writes, “If this week’s Gospel reading has anything to say about it, we are still meant to live the question of who Jesus is, day by day and hour by hour. We’re not meant to “solve” him once and for all. As hard as this might sound, we’re not meant to land. To arrive. To hang tight.”
It’s funny in a way that we do indeed seek to live according to the Gospel; the Gospel of 487 unanswered questions. And we seek out the gospel story not because we need the certainty of the law, but because we want – we need – to be challenged. We need to love the question and live the question if we are to grow in our faith and grow as people of this earth. I’d like to close with a piece by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai:
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow in the Spring.
The place where we are right is hard and trampled…like a yard.
But doubts and loves dig up the world
Like a mole, like a plow.”
Live the question. That’s Jesus’ invitation and he makes it over and over again, in love.
Amen & shalom