You’ve met people like this. You may have even had a few of them as fellow students in college. You know the ones. They are the students who ask inconvenient questions of the professor that calls for complicated answers and explanations. Those are the fellow students that always seemed to throw off the lecture and send the class into disarray!
I even had a seminary professor who told our class that if we had any interesting questions to keep them to ourselves. After all, if we had interesting questions, we would have our post-doctorate degrees by now like he did. He advised us that we should avoid the prideful notion that we had anything interesting to say until we did the work! Funny guy!
But, just like the our hero in Oliver Twist and his inconvenient request for “more please”, sometimes asking inconvenient questions reveals something very important.
So, why is it we avoid asking inconvenient questions. Or maybe they are just uncomfortable questions. Questions that get to the heart of a real injustice, or a deep seated prejudice, or even a real life-stalling behavior? Why are we moderns always in therapy but never getting really free?
What will it take for us to confront some inconvenient questions?
Our Lord had this happen to Him, but, as usual, He turned it on His accusers and they regretted asking what they thought was a real doozy of a question.
Jesus is being challenged by a group of religious leaders called Sadducees. These people, frankly they were the intelligencia of their day and the most influential group in the leadership of Israel at the time. Their claim to intellectual superiority was their insistence that the Jewish religion limit its teachings to the books of Moses, the first five books of our Old Testament (I really don’t like that phrase, preferring “First Testament” but that’s a discussion for another day). Because of this they had no teachings about a resurrection of the dead in their religious philosophy. In fact, they made fun of any notion of resurrection. For them, the Jewish faith was a philosophy of living for this life only. It was a cultural treasure for the Jews and a way to govern their ethnic tribe. They felt any talk of a resurrection of the dead or eternal life was a distraction from the here and now. Boy were they wrong. Turns out the “here and now” is where we prepare for the “later on!” But I digress!
Let’s listen in: “At that time, there came to Jesus some Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and died without children; and the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.’ And some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ For they no longer dared to ask him any question.” See the whole text at Luke 20:27-44
Our Lord confronts these men with a passage from the very first Book of Moses, Genesis, and He reminds these “oh so wise” religious leaders that God is the God of the living, not the dead! They thought they had a way to trip up the Lord. They were wrong. The wise ones in the group didn’t ask any more questions after this encounter!
But that’s the funny thing, or maybe I should say “the penetrating thing”, about truth. When the question is answered, it goes to the real heart of the problem and not merely the symptom.
Today, the wisdom of the faith wont waste your time with trivial matters. The faith isn’t about satisfying our curiosity about this or that “mystery” of the universe. No, our faith is about dealing with the most important mystery of all, the mystery of our own hearts, and how to heal our true wounds. The disciplines of the faith aren’t here to merely inconvenience us with this or that dietary rule and regulation. The wisdom of the Church isn’t here to placate this or that cultural sensitivity or even to be perpetually “relevant” to the ever shifting sands of what’s popular or entertaining.
No, our faith is about the greatest inconvenient question of all: “What must I do to be saved?”
Today, let us faithfully dismiss all the distractions that con us into wasting our time on small matters, and embrace the rhythm of an Orthodox lifestyle of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to see our true selves revealed in the interior work of the Holy Spirit to make us like Jesus Christ, our Lord, in both attitude and focus. Let’s ask of ourselves the inconvenient questions that make us the courageous followers of Christ, and not merely the perpetually mediocre lip servants of a religious “habit.” Let us, today, be strong enough to hear the inconvenient answers to the true questions of our lives.
Grace and strength to you today and may God grant us a good month to see real progress in our spiritual maturity.
“No, our faith is about the greatest inconvenient question of all: ‘What must I do to be saved?’”
Thank you, Fr. Barnabus. Your topic is an interesting one which should confront each of us on a daily—even momentary—basis. And, we should encourage this confrontation to come to us reflexively from within and to seek out those related inconvenient questions from outside, though within the loving safety of Christ’s Church.
Unfortunately, the world around us suggests we should present the more polite and attractive aspects of our character. We become trained to ask the clever questions, to defer to the ego of another, to present a refined image of ourselves in spite of the spiritual reality which lays just beneath the surface. We tend to avoid asking the inconvenient questions of others in the hope that they might reciprocate, avoiding any inconvenient questions of us.
As the years have slowly glided by, I have found that I press to seek out those inconvenient questions from others. In the spiritual life, the last person I can trust for a discerning assessment is myself; far better for me to lean upon trustworthy brothers and sisters in the faith, who can observe me more objectively. Often, the words I wish to hear least are the words I need to hear most. There are times when I can muster the courage to ask those critical questions of myself. But, there are other times when I need the loving perspective of another member of the Body of Christ.
And, as we gain trust in our brothers and sisters in the faith, we feel more comfortable acknowledging the flaws which are part of the fabric of our fallen human nature. We are not so preoccupied with being seen in our “Sunday best,” because there are times when we can barely manage “cleaning day rags.” This begins to approach a healthy spiritual state … not self-deprecation, but honest humility.
St. Nicholas Cabasilas states that conversion to Christ does not end with Holy Baptism; rather conversion begins with Baptism and ends in the grave. This lifelong process will only end on that last day. The inconvenient question is one we must never allow ourselves not to ask.
“What must I do to be saved?” Elsewhere, Jesus Christ states “Love God above all else and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Upon these two commandments are built all of the Law and the Prophets.” I feel strongly that within a loving Orthodox Christian community, bringing Divine and human relationship together as one, the concept of inconvenient questions disappear.
Thank you for sharing. You’ve provided me with much to consider.
With Love in Christ,
Rev. Hdcn. Theodore Niklasson