Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Questions, Not Answers

I grew up chock full of Catholic Answers
 to contemporary questions. 
But those airtight answers left little space 
for the nuances that emerge
 whenever human beings are involved.

But, experience has revealed 
that memorizing catechism answers 
is no more helpful 
than reciting scripture verses 
if isolated from the rich context of our life and times. 

Knowing the answer does me little good, 
in fact, 
if I’m not asking the right question.

Questions are a vital part of Jesus’ story. 
Teachers and Clerics 
bring their often academic or sterile inquiries to Jesus: 
What must I do to inherit eternal life? 
What is the greatest commandment? 
Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? 
Why do your disciples not fast? 
Why do they pick grain on the Sabbath? 
Why do they not purify their hands before eating? 
Are you a king? 

Even when the question has an immediate and practical urgency to it
as the law of Moses says to stone an adulteress: 
What say you, Jesus?
It rings hollow 
without the personal investment of the interrogator. 

Such inquiries are designed 
to entrap the responder, 
not enlighten the inquirer. 
Starting from the wrong mindset, 
no liberating answer is likely.

A seeker will ask other questions. 
Take, for example, the magi on their long and costly mystical quest. 
They’ve made the investment of patient study, time, and resources. 
Arriving in Jerusalem, 
these men are prepared to ask the right question: 
“Where is the child born to be king of the Jews?” 

It’s the sort of open, hopeful question 
to which Jesus might reply with his usual invitation to discipleship:
 “Come and see!”

John the Baptist, 
another famed seeker, 
frankly asks Jesus what he needs to know on several occasions:
 “Why have you come to me to be baptized? 
I ought to be coming to you!” 
Or: “Are you the one who is to come? 
Or should we look for another?” 

Because he seeks clarity and direction, 
John will get the reply that actually helps him know what to do.

Even demonic spirits 
seem to have the good sense to ask appropriate questions:
 “What do you want with us, Jesus Son of God? 
Have you come to destroy us?” 
Um, that would be yes; but also and more pointedly, 
to free the suffering host.

Jesus asks many questions. 
They’re the kind that pierce to the heart of the matter: 
Why are you afraid? 
Aren’t you worth more than sparrows? 
Can worry make you live longer? 
Do you believe I can make you well? 
Why don’t you give the hungry crowds something to eat? 
Why do you doubt me, O you of little faith? 
Who do you say that I am? 
What profit is it to gain the world and lose your soul? 
Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?

When Jesus encounters two blind men, 
he asks simply,
 “What do you want me to do for you?” 
They reply with as much eager directness, 
“Lord, we want to see!” 
And so they do.

Asking the right question, 
clearly, has its advantages. 

The crowds around Jesus 
were rarely perceptive enough to know 
what that question might be. 
Instead, they wondered about worldly matters, 
rooted in gossip and glimmers of self-interest: 
Could Jesus be the Son of David, 
meant to restore Israel to greatness? 

But wait, isn’t he the carpenter’s son, 
nothing special? 
If he were a prophet, 
wouldn’t he know the sort of woman who is touching him? 

Not much may be expected 
from crowds who came for the Jesus show 
while it was in town 
but returned home afterwards. 

The in-it-to-win-it disciples, however, 
should have been more discerning. 
Yet they were notorious for being quite dense, 
even after listening to Jesus teach day after day. 

They asked ego-driven questions, 
often with personal gain as their focus: 
Why couldn’t we cast out the demon in that boy? 
How many times should I forgive someone
—is seven times enough? 
What will we get in return 
for giving up everything to follow Jesus? 
Can we sit on your left and your right 
in the coming kingdom? 
Why is this dubious woman 
wasting such expensive perfume in this conspicuous gesture? 
How much do I get if I hand Jesus over to you?

Questions of all kinds leap from the pages of the gospels: 
the pointed and the pointless, 
the sort to which a miracle is the best reply, 
as well as the rhetorical question
 that hangs in the air 
demanding a response composed of our very lives. 

These questions invite us 
to be the community that asks better questions, 
not merely an ecclesial authority 
swift to rattle off the final answer.

If I am not careful 
to ask the right questions, 
no matter which answers I arrive at, 
they are sure to be woefully inadequate.

I have had to
abandon the Hierarchy’s easy answers
learning to
live the questions.

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