When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
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?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
I have always rather enjoyed it when my job has meant I’ve been working with lawyers. Government lawyers tend to bring a different point of view to a question – challenging sloppy thinking, and being creative about alternative solutions to problems. To be able to ask the lawyer’s question in this reading, you probably need to know the law so well you actually have an opinion on the question – and I learn that Jesus’ answer is pretty orthodox for discussions among Jewish thinkers at the time – but the questioners don’t like the question he asks them in return.
I suspect a lot of us don’t always welcome the sort of question that makes us rethink our approach – whether at work, home or in our faith life. There is a lot of comfort from familiar patterns, especially when the world around us is so volatile and uncertain. But I’d suggest that some of our most effective ministers are the people who do ask those awkward questions; why don’t you think you’re the right person to do X? What if Jesus actually means Y rather than the interpretation you’ve heard before? I know you think Z, but have you thought about these arguments? If all we do at church is go through the motions, telling familiar stories as if we are watching repeats of a favourite TV show, I would suggest we’re not showing much openness to the Holy Spirit moving among us.
But we shouldn’t leave this to ministers or elders. On a recent visit to the Quaker centre at Woodbrooke, I came across their ‘Advices and Queries’ (and I’d commend them as worthwhile reading If you were making a list of questions to challenge yourself whether you were living out your faith, what would be on it?
Lord, we give thanks for the questioners; for the experts asking from a position of knowledge; for the children who aren’t afraid to be curious.
We give thanks for the questions that release us from cages we construct ourselves; for the joy of ‘yes’ rather than the fear of ‘no’.
Open us up to the power of questions; help us admit when we don’t know; help us recognise when we are wrong; excite us to learn more, to change more, to live more.
And may your Holy Spirit inspire us to love and service.
Today’s writer Gordon Woods, Elder, St. Columba’s URC, Oxford