“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” — RM Rilke
“There’s peace in the broken; there’s peace in the fall. And if your heart is open, it’s not empty at all.” — Elizabeth Wills
“It’s really quite amazing, entirely life-changing. So let me ask before I show you — Do you really want to know?” — Peter Mayer
“What’s ‘the most wonderful thing about tiggers?’” — Tigger (AA Milne)
There’s a great story in the New Testament (Matthew 10) about a rich young man (a “ruler”) who asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus answers by clarifying that no one is “good” but God and then asks the man if he has followed the ten commandments (The Law of the OT). Which the man says he has done since childhood (an interesting response, given that most of the laws have to do with adulthood behavior – don’t commit adultery, don’t worship other gods, don’t murder, don’t covet another man’s wife or animals, don’t lie about others, and so on.) So the young man’s bases should be covered. Should be good to go.
But Jesus qualifies the answer further, making it personal, and says, “Great! Then sell all you have, give to those in need, and follow me — follow my way of life!”
And the man walks away sad because he has a lot of wealth.
I think we miss the point of this story if we think it is simply about the evils of wealth. First, is this simply a story about how to get to heaven? Is he talking about his desire to live forever and assuage his simple fear (our general human reality) that we’re mortal? We’re going to die. How do we dodge that? How do we ensure we get to keep going somehow? Is that what this story is about?
Or is this more about his desire to “get right with God”? And what’s that all about? Eternal life — life in abundance. Does he feel empty, disconnected from his own life, others, life itself?
To get some sense of an answer, I think we have to take a few steps back to get some idea of the context, some perspective, for this story. Jesus’ ministry was almost exclusively about healing, widening the tent of God’s love, and confronting those whose lives were rooted in/dependent on that exclusivity. Jesus lived at a time that was a deeply religious, pious reality trying to exist under the oppressive roof of the Roman Empire.
The man, apparently very wealthy (and likely very connected with the Roman Empire as well as his Judaism), approached Jesus, who was in his usual setting (surrounded by a crowd of poor, marginalized, working-class, men and women, as well as the nearby smaller, critical crowd of the temple leadership). He asks Jesus a question about getting right with God without realizing that that really means getting right with the people and world around him. You just can’t be compassionately, curiously connected to the world around you if you try to make that world all about you. But rather than ask “why?” the need to let go of his “stuff”, or ask of himself what he might be missing in that moment, he returns to his familiar pattern (i.e., I am only worthy as I am wealthy) and walks away sad. But why “sad”? He has what he’s always really wanted, right? His wealth and power? Why so sad?
There are so many questions available to us in every moment we live. And often, our responses to these moments are with “unquestioned” (or as I like to say, “mindless”) choices. We rarely step back with the approach of “unknowing”, of asking what might I learn here? What am I missing? What’s the bigger picture? What are my deepest, earliest influences for how I see the world and live my life keeping me from seeing now?
Someone once told me, a better approach to life than trying to find simple answers and prescriptions is discovering the better questions to ask.
This Sunday, I am beginning a new series entitled, “Peace in the Broken: Living with the Question.” For the next six weeks, I will interview special guests from our church and the wider community, exploring the early path of their spirituality and where “things broke open” for them — where finding the right questions to life’s mysteries became more important than having the “right” answers. How might questions widen our faith in ways that connect us more deeply with our lives, with life around us, and with the very source of our being?
This Sunday, I interview Rev Linda McDermott and discover a few things even I didn’t know! Charme Robarts, and Brad Thompson and the band will join in, along with some very special musical guests I have met along the way this Summer!
I hope to see you then!
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven
Important Upcoming Events!
Church-Wide Vote for the Next 90 Campaignregister to vote
Crafting Difficult Conversations
Hosted by Darryl Parker and Tom McDermott
Sept 14, 7 pm
“What I Didn’t Hear – Conversations with My Daughter”
Sometimes, while pursuing excellence in our lives and families, we stop listening. We miss hearing what’s being said to us as we’re hearing through this filter of narrative excellence we create. This Sunday we join Darryl in crafting a conversation around listening to his daughter, Kagan, as she shares the unspoken narrative that shaped her life.zoom discussion meeting