CAN YOU ASK THE QUESTION?

Author: Fr. Mike Byron
September 23, 2018


“…and they were afraid to question him…and they were afraid to question him.”

These are the disciples with their beloved friend and teacher, Jesus.  Why—or about what—would they be afraid to question him?  What is too scary to discover the truth about from someone whom you love and trust?  

It’s too scary when you are aware that you may already know the answer to the question and you’d rather not.  

Consider questions like these:
-Doctor, how much longer do I have to live?
-Honey, do you still love me anymore?
-Boss, am I going to have a job here in six weeks?
-Son, are you vaping?  Daughter, are you drinking too much?
-My friend, is there a secret you’ve never shared with me?

There are a lot of unasked questions in real life because the true answers would threaten to devastate us:        
-Did the priest behave inappropriately with you?
-Is my lapse of memory something to be concerned about?
-Should I still be driving my car, or living alone?
-Do I have enough money to be secure in my retirement?

The hard truth, spoken by somebody who cares, can be very disturbing to hear…even scary.  So it really isn’t so amazing to consider that Jesus’ disciples were afraid to ask the question in the gospel today: “Lord, when you said that you are going to be betrayed, tortured, and put to death in Jerusalem, did you really mean that?”  “And when you told us that we must be prepared to forsake everything if we want to follow you, was that to be taken literally?  Our money, our reputation, our friends, our family, our property, our sense of control?  Our very life?  Did you mean that?”

I’m not sure I’d want to hear the blunt force of Jesus’ answer to questions like that.  So better not to ask.  But Jesus in the gospel is not waiting for us to ask.  He is speaking difficult truth, and doing it with reference to an image that is particularly searing in the present moment of our church.  

He finds a child, and puts his arms around it, and tells us that this is the measure of our faithfulness to his call.  The children of Galilee were not known for their cuteness and adorableness in the bible.  They were known for their utter vulnerability, their complete lack of standing as real people, their inability to speak.  The children were then—as they are now—utterly dependent upon the mercy and the justice and the charity of everybody else.  These are the ones, Jesus says, who will judge your sincerity in claiming to follow me.  How are you treating the children? How are you letting them tell you what is required?  How are you encountering those who cannot have any power over you to compel you to care about them?  (They aren’t all children, but a lot of them are.)  How are you in engaging the people who can do absolutely nothing for you in return, who take and take and take and demand your self-offering just because they are there?  What are you ready to do for them?

These may be the questions that the disciples were not very comfortable in confronting, and so may have been afraid to ask.  We aren’t so different from them in that regard.  Their fear, and ours, is understandable.  But it’s not an excuse to turn away.

There are churches not far from here where the message is that following Jesus is the key to wealth, success, and a happy life here and now.  I don’t know what gospel they are reading in those places, but it’s not this one, because “I” and “me” are not the points of reference for evaluating a faithful Christian life.  The points of reference instead are the weakest ones; the children, the immigrants, the poor, the homeless, the very aged, the chronically sick. The questions we may be afraid to ask are, “How are they doing?” and “What is required of us in response?”  And to be honest, at the moment most of them aren’t doing very well.

Certainly there is joy to be found in being faithful to our call, and there is great grace in creating a vibrant Christian community together, such as the one here at Pax.  Our mission isn’t all drudgery.  But it is about responsibility and self-offering.  Jesus tells us today that “if anyone wishes to be first/greatest, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”  So let us indeed strive to be first and greatest, but let us be absolutely clear about what that means.            


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