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Daring to ask

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 

“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
   until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”?

If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’And no one was able to answer Jesus a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

I have to admit, I struggle with this passage. To me, it seems facile, clever: The Pharisees have been confronting Jesus with trick questions; Jesus asks them one of his own, one designed to shake them out of their formulaic certainties — and then they are silenced. They do not dare to ask him any more questions.

I hate that. To me, questions are essential in the life of faith. Questions imply curiosity, the desire to learn, to grow, to be fed, to engage the world around me. Questions (real questions, not questions like those of the Pharisees, which were intended to trap someone else, to establish dominance over someone else — but real questions) require humility. In order to ask them, we need to admit that we do not understand everything about the world, about others, about God. In order to ask them, we need to be open to the possibility of being changed by the answers we receive; we need to accept that we may not understand everything even about ourselves. 

The question Jesus asks is itself a temptation: it asks the Pharisees to pin God down with minute details: What is the genealogy of the Messiah? But the question is also a doorway into salvation, because it offers an entrance into mystery. As long as we try to confine the actions of God to concepts and events that we can understand, we seek to remain bigger than God, in control of our selves and our world and God’s actions within the world. 

subatomic particles dance in a bubble chamber

But the world is more wonderful, more fearful, more mysterious than we can conceive. We live in a world in which quarks spin and subatomic interactions mysteriously shape mostly-empty space into ground which is solid enough to bear our weight. We live in a world in which the coupling of a man and a woman can somehow bring forth the beauty of newborn’s face; in which that tiny scrap of a human being can grow to be six feet tall, can bring joy and cause tears and change the world for others, and then crumble into dust and be completely forgotten — except by the mind of God. We live in a world with the wrinkled eyes of elephants and the long necks of giraffes and inexplicable weirdness of the platypus. And so Christ invites us, not to understand, but 

to wonder: to question and to seek and to subside into reverence and awe.

Tonight is the Eve of Ascension, perhaps the most mysterious aspect of Jesus’ life: that after coming to us and wearing our flesh and dying on a cross and rising from the dead — he leaves again. Theologians tell us to be glad about that; to me, it often feels like one more loss, arriving at the birthday party after the guest of honor has gone home. 

But if I can allow myself to sit with my un-understanding, if I can refrain from trying to know what it means, then I can enter a different space: a space filled with questions. What might it mean for Christ to go home again? How did they greet him when he arrived? What does it mean to live on earth which Jesus’ feet have touched, and left behind, to live in flesh which Jesus has worn and discarded and then put on again and carried up to Heaven? What might it mean that God knows the inside of my skin and advocates for me, advocates not only for me but for all who have worn skin? How might I have to honor others, knowing that?

Questions are where it’s at, my friends. Keep asking.

— Deborah Meister

Image credit: U.S. National Archives


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