Summary: How do we respond to the questions of life? How did Jesus respond?
It seems that questions fill our daily lives. Everywhere we go, we are confronted by questions. At home it might be very simple things like,
“What’s for tea?” or,
“When’s Grandma coming?”,
“How can I afford it?”,
“Who does she think she is?”,
“What was that referee doing?”,
“Why can’t I have one?”
And the one dreaded by men waiting outside fitting rooms,
“Well, what do you think?”
In the media, questions are what seems to generate most interest, be they questions about the leadership of the Conservative party, questions about the integrity of Labour Ministers, questions about the IRA decommissioning of weapons. Question Time and Any Questions remain deeply popular, despite the frequent lack of answers. Many people find the most interesting parts of the news when people are interviewed, especially when they’re asked difficult questions.
Questions are an intrinsic part of our lives today, but sometimes they drive us to distraction. How often have you come close to cheerfully strangling a little voice that pipes up with, “Are we nearly there yet?”? How often has a simple question induced panic, when a small voice asks, “How are babies made?”, in the middle of the queue in Sainsburys.
Whatever, we may think, questions are a key way of exploring, learning and developing, for children and for adults. Some churches don’t encourage asking questions. I want to say that I think it’s vital for the church to encourage people to ask questions, to explore and find out, be that about the Bible, about God, about the Church. Asking questions in church is not a bad thing. It isn’t a sign of weakness, or of lack of faith, or of an unwillingness to accept what you’re told, or anything of the kind. Asking questions is a good way to help us learn more of God, understand more of God, and so come closer to God.
Asking questions can seem very dangerous. In Yes Minister, Sir Humphrey Appleby, the civil servant, always warned everyone against asking a question of which you didn’t already know the answer. Perhaps by asking questions, you might get an answer that you don’t expect, don’t like, or even find that there is no answer. None-the-less, it’s still important to be brave enough to ask questions. We may not know or find the answer to every question, but that doesn’t mean that there are no answers to any questions, or that we shouldn’t ask them.
Leonardo Boff, who is a liberation theologian from South America, said that, “God does not answer all our questions, but in Jesus God enters into the very heart of our questions”.
Many of us are probably asking questions about that tragic road accident that was on the front page of this week’s paper. “How can God, if there is such a thing, allow the tragic death of two small children?” I would be insulting your intelligence if I attempted to answer that question. It is one of life’s unanswerable questions. There is no answer, but there is a response. The response is that God provides family and friends to offer love and support, and that is where God is. But we are still left without an answer. One of the challenges of being a Christian is not about finding answers to all our questions, but about learning to live with the questions.
I want to encourage questions in church, because I believe Jesus was keenly concerned with asking questions. As a child, Jesus grew up in the Jewish tradition of learning through questioning. If you remember the story when Jesus was separated from his parents, they found him in the Temple, surrounded by priests, asking them questions.
As an adult and teacher, Jesus continued in the questioning tradition. In today’s reading, at verse 36, Jesus is confronted with the biggest question of all:
“Which commandment is the greatest?”
His reply is very simple, he affirms that it is to “love God with all your heart, soul and mind”. He backs this up with the commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Jesus is, of course, saying nothing original here, as he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures. So, in Jesus’ case there was an answer to the questions in today’s reading, and it’s an answer that underlay his life, work and Ministry. The answer was to love God, to love our neighbour, and to love ourselves.
We don’t often read from Leviticus in Church, and I suspect we read even more rarely outside, if at all. It largely consists of laws that we don’t understand, don’t agree with, or don’t see as relevant. But our little snippet that we heard today, is one of the more palatable bits, in fact it even has some relevance for us today. Whilst the tone and way of expressing things was a little odd, it was perfectly reasonable sentiments, that it’s hard to take great exception to, explaining various ways in which we are recommended to treat one other, ending with the reminder to love our neighbour as ourselves.