What Do You Know?

“What Do You Know?” Bob Ryder

Matthew 18:21-22 (paraphrased) Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, if one of our group wrongs me, how many times am I to forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, seventy times seven.

Luke 10:25-37  A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities.  In the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki – “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”

Have you ever asked a question and gotten an answer you didn’t like, even though deep down you knew it was probably right?  For that matter, have you ever avoided asking a question for knowing you might not like the answer, thus you’d rather not hear it so as not to be accountable for an uncomfortable truth?  There’s a thin line where caution meets curiosity.  Let’s think about that kind of curiosity this morning.  For the past few years we’ve explored themes in worship entitled, “What does it mean to be a people of _______?”  In one series it was, “What does it mean to be a people of gratitude?” In another, “What does it mean to be a people of beauty?” In another, “What does it mean to be a people of courage?”  This morning it’s “What does it mean to be a people of curiosity?”

What if one of the ways we think of ourselves, one of the ways we cultivate our spirituality is through curiosity?  There are different nuances to the word.  Sometimes it means being inquisitive.  Sometimes it means pursuing something interesting for the sake of amusement or entertainment.  The resources we’ve used exploring these “What does it mean to be a people of…” themes is from the Unitarian Universalists.  In the prelude for this series, the authors suggest pursuing curiosity not merely for the sake of amusement or as an intellectual exercise, but for the sake of the worthy if uncomfortable personal consequences it might lead to.  It talks about the kind of curiosity in which we open ourselves both to new information and new perspective.  It implies an approach to learning that leads to changing both our way of thinking about the world and understanding our place in it.  It advocates educating ourselves both with an awareness that there are things we don’t know, and that there are things we’ve been wrong about.  Heaven forbid, what if it leads to finding out someone we’ve been at odds with was right?  What does it mean to be a people of curiosity?  To be curious is to be daring, it’s a willingness to move out of our comfort zone onto the steep end of a learning curve – steep whether because of the volume and complexity of the information, or because we need to set aside our pride and acknowledge we might not know as much as we pretend.  Either way, this kind of spirituality is suffused at once with potential and vulnerability.

I chose the stories from Matthew and Luke as examples of this daunting sort of curiosity.  In my imagination, I see the conversations playing out as if in a movie.  In both scenes, a character comes to Jesus with a question for which they obviously have an expectation about the answer.  In both scenes, the answer Jesus actually offers is quite different from what they were hoping to hear.

In Peter’s case – “Teacher, how many times do I have to forgive someone in our group (who shall remain nameless BARTHOLOMEW!) who’s done me wrong?  Is seven enough?  Because I’m at 6 with him already, and if he keeps “borrowing” my flippin’ sandals I’m gonna use him for fish bait!  So anyway, seven – right?  He gets one more pass, then I’ve met my quota.”

In 21st century parlance, Jesus’ response might sound something like, “Do you really want to know?”

Peter – “What, it’s more than 7?!  It’s not 14 – don’t even TELL me it’s 14!”

Jesus – “Do you want to hear this or not?”

Peter (sighing) – “Yeah, go on.”

Jesus – “It’s 70 times 7, Peter.  And before you say it, no – not 490.  Forgiveness isn’t about a number, it’s a way of life.  If you’re counting how many times you’ve been wronged, you haven’t even begun to understand what I’m talking about.  You’re going to be wronged a lot more than seven or fourteen or four hundred and ninety times in this life.  The answer to how much forgiving you have to do isn’t a number.  It’s a practice.  It’s a habit.  Forgiveness is part of who you are.  And by the way, learn to put your sandals away overnight instead of leaving them out where Bart can find them, because yes you ARE your brother’s keeper.”

We’ve all heard the adage, “There are no stupid questions.”  I don’t think that’s right.  I’ve heard people ask questions that seemed to skirt an obvious point in a conversation.  I’ve asked some stupid questions in my time, usually when I’m being deliberately obtuse or contrarian as a way of getting attention, or else I’m trying to show how much I know in the guise of a question.  There are questions we ask because we genuinely don’t know something and we’re curious, and there are questions we ask because we want to come off as clever or steer the debate away from a possibility we might not like.  It’s well worth recognizing the difference.  Which way do you suppose the lawyer was coming at Jesus in the conversation about eternal life?

Lawyer – “Teacher, what do I have to do to go to heaven?”

Jesus – “Go on, tell me the answer you learned in Sunday School, as if you weren’t already going to.”

Lawyer – “Love the Lord with my heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love my neighbor as myself.”

Jesus – “Right, good for you.  You get a jewel in your crown.  Have a nice day.”

Sensing Jesus wasn’t really all that impressed, the lawyer broke a rule lawyers are taught never to break, asking a question to which he didn’t already know the answer.  Here maybe he’s betrayed himself by actually being a bit curious.  “And who is my neighbor?”

Well we know the story of the Good Samaritan.  A guy gets mugged by a gang and he’s left for dead.  Two proper religious types come along in turn, both avoiding the injured man, choosing not to get involved.  A third person, the Samaritan, happens by.  Remember a Samaritan was about as popular at that time as a transgendered refugee seeking asylum at the southern border would be now.  Yet it’s the Samaritan who takes care of the injured man as if it were his own brother.  He treats his wounds, puts him up in an Inn, and pays the Innkeeper some advance money to take care of his guest.

Jesus – “Now then, who was more like a neighbor, the proper religious folk on their way to their proper religious work?  Or the social pariah who went out of his way to help a stranger?

The lawyer gives back the only possible answer, acknowledging it was the Samaritan.

Jesus – “This is what it looks like to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  That’s how you’re supposed to understand “neighbors” in the commandment.  If you’re asking which categories of people you have to be good to, you haven’t even begun to understand.  It’s not about calculating how much goodness you’re responsible for doing to which people before you’re “off the hook.”  Loving your neighbor is about embodying love.  It’s not whether someone else is your neighbor, it’s that you’re theirs.  You’re supposed to be a neighbor to everyone.”

We’re on safe ground supposing that neither Peter nor the lawyer walked away from their respective conversations feeling especially satisfied.  Likely they muttered to themselves, “Sorry I asked!”  But this is the kind of learning that daring curiosity leads to.  It reminds you that if you that if you dare to ask a challenging question, you need to be prepared for a challenging answer.  Part of our spirituality is to be daringly inquisitive.  What are we willing to learn about ourselves and our place in the world?  Have you ever asked a question and gotten an answer you didn’t like, even though deep down you knew it was probably right?  For that matter, have you ever avoided asking a question for knowing you might not like the answer, thus you’d rather not hear it so as not to be accountable to an uncomfortable truth?  There’s a thin line where caution meets curiosity.  Take a moment to consider a though you might choose to share in response, and we’ll pass the microphone for a few minutes.