Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stop Asking Questions

I'm not a big fan of people who ask questions without an interest in hearing the answer. And I write this as someone who asks lots of questions. In my school days, I was accused more than once of asking questions just to hear myself ask the question or to show off in front of the teacher and class. Actually, I've since grasped that I am an aural learner. I need to hear it to learn it. That's why I say my sermons out loud as I write them--so I'll remember them when I climb into the pulpit. All of that to say that even though I love questions--asking them, hearin them, reading them, and answering them--I don't like it when someone asks a question without caring enough to listen for an answer. 

But isn't that what Jeus does in Sunday's gospel lesson (Matt. 22:33-46)? The Pharisees, having learned that the Saducees had struck out in their quest to stump the brillian rabbi, approach Jesus with yet another question: which is the greatest commandment? Jesus gives a wonderful answer--one we still quote every week in a Rite I Eucharist--that takes the Law and distills it into two basic principles: love God and love neighbor. But then Jesus gives them one of his own. 

"Whose son is the Messiah?" Jesus asks. "David's, of course," they reply. "Then why does David in the Psalms call him Lord? When does a father (implied greater) show such deference to his son?" They couldn't answer him, so they departed, and no one dared to ask him any more questions. But what sort of question did Jesus ask?

It's a dumb question. Jesus is quoting from the Psalms as if David were making a logical statement about the relationship between himself and his future descendant--the one-day annointed one. But that's a very, very short-sighted reading of scripture--especially the Psalms, which are poetic prayers that aren't often subjected to the sort of grammatical scrutiny that Jesus seems to be applying here. No, I don't think Jesus cared about the answer. I think Jesus knew it was a stupid question. I think he asked it to prove a point: that such scrutinizing questions as those the Saducees and Pharisees had asked were misfounded and pointless. 

One great thing about our God is that he invites our questions. Read the "dialogue" between Yahewh and Abraham in Genesis 18. Read the story of Jonah and ask yourself why a book of the bible portrays a prophet wrestling with God's call to go to Nineveh. Read the Book of Job and let his agonizing questions of God's will become your own. The point is that God allows, invites, even encourages our questions. But that doesn't mean that our faith depends on the answers. 

Our God defies our desire to enclose him within a set of doctrinal statements. God's nature and will cannot be subjected to cross-examination. Yes, we are beckoned to ask the questions, but we can't expect the answers. The Pharisees seem to think that faith in God depends on getting the answers to puzzling questions about law and messiah and scripture. But Jesus shows us that those questions don't come with easy answer. 

So, yes, keep asking those nagging, unanswerable questions, but don't give up when the answer doesn't come. That's faith. 

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