Rev. Dr. Scott D. Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY
My children ask a lot of questions. A lot. They ask why. They ask where. They ask who. They ask when. They ask how come. And more than anything else they like to ask: What?! What?! What?!
Their favorite time to ask questions is when we’re on the road. Trapped in their car seats, my kids immediately become little detectives. With nothing to do but think about and look out at the world around them they become exceedingly inquisitive. They ask both simple and existential questions. They inquire about the mundane and the magnificent. They ask questions that are fun to answer, difficult to respond to and – admittedly – tricky as all get out to address. In fact, more often than not, on the ride home from school I am stumped and tripped up by the questions of my 4 and six year old daughters.
I got to thinking about my kids and their questions when I read the gospel lesson assigned for Sunday. Jesus is on the road with his disciples and he’s prepping them for the things to come (namely, his suffering, death and resurrection), and scripture says, “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Mark 9:32
I resonated with the disciples’ response far more than the inquisitive nature of my children. I immediately knew what they were feeling, thinking, doubting and discovering.
Don’t admit you’re lost, Peter must have thought.
Your question is stupid, I’m sure John and James told each other.
They all understand and you’re the only one who doesn’t, Thomas must have feared.
Play smart, Andrew coached himself.
Keep your questions to yourself, they collectively agreed.
See, at some point on the road to adulthood many of us check our inquisitive nature and adopt a spirit of “know-it-all-ness.” We don’t ask questions for fear that we might look dumb. We keep our questions in so people don’t realize we don’t have it all figured out. Asking questions is viewed as a sign of weakness. And, Lord knows, we hate to show anything less than perfection to the world around us.
It was true of disciples then and it is true of disciples now.
In fact, I suspect that many people struggle with church these days because they have questions and don’t know how to ask them. I’ve heard people lament that congregational life often becomes a test time for what we know, rather than study time to learn what we don’t. What this gospel lesson teaches us is that even Jesus’ closest disciples (those who witnessed firsthand and journeyed down the road with him) struggled to grasp the meaning and message. They had questions. (So maybe it is okay that we do too.)
In this gospel lesson, when Jesus and his disciples reached their destination he asked them what they were talking about on the road. Once again, they were silent. (This time because they were fighting over who was greatest – a decidedly unchristian topic.) And so, Jesus does an odd thing. He takes a little kid, wraps his arms around her, and says, “This is who is welcome in my kingdom.” Mark 9:37
Jesus exhorts his disciples then and now to be like kids on the road. To look out at the world around us and admit we have things to learn, things to discover and grow into. The pairing of grown-up disciples who are afraid to ask questions with a little kid who must have been inquisitive cannot be unintentional. Rather, what the gospel author and Jesus want to teach us is that our Christian formation starts with a simple understanding that we have things to learn and there are questions that need to be asked.
Be like a little child, is Jesus’ advice (Matthew 18:3). Ask, listen, consider, ask a follow-up, and grow. I pray for a church that is no longer filled with grownups who squabble over who is the greatest and instead become a school where the young and old mature in faith.
I confess that I don’t have all the answers to my kids questions (and I can’t answer all of yours), but I dream of a church that becomes a place were we simply sit and wonder: What?!
In the Way,
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