Christ Is the Question
Christ Is the Question
In the last century bumper stickers, in support of yet another evangelical campaign, proclaimed, "Christ Is the Answer."
Well, of course, he is... to all of our human longings and hopes and prayers and dreams. Like that church bulletin cover I inherited in 1956 in my first parish in Brooklyn: it pictured a large heavenly Jesus with arms outstretched downward in compassion upon a church that looked very much like the one in which the aforesaid bulletin was distributed. Alongside the church was written a legend which, in so many, many words, described exactly what Jesus could do for you. Bless. Heal. Comfort. Encourage. Save. Love. Lead. Rescue. Redeem. Forgive. You name it, He can do it. He is the answer to every human need.
And, yes, of course, we Christians believe it and are happy to believe it.
But that message, Christ is the answer, only tells half the story. Christ is also the question:
Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? (Luke 10:36)
Why do you call me good? (Mark 10:18)
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? (Matthew 6:27)
Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you? (Luke 12:14)
But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:29)
Do you love me? (John 21:17)
Each of them provocative in its own way, dislocating really, lifting us out of our habits of thought. And these cited, pretty much yanked out of context, are just for openers. So very many of Jesus' forthright statements about God and the way we live our lives were heard for the first time (but certainly not the last!) by people who didn't have a clue as to the radical nature of his statements:
You lack one thing, go, sell what you have, and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. (Mark 10:21)
Love your enemies. (Matthew 5:44)
Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven; but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all and servant of all. (Matthew 9:35)
How blest are those of a gentle spirit. (Matthew 5:5 NEB)
Jesus was "in your face" to the hierarchical arrangements of human society. He was (and is) profoundly egalitarian, everyone in, and no one left out on the basis of all of those distinctions human beings cherish to tell the difference between the white hats and the black hats. And he entertained no illusions as to the consequence of this defiance of the ways things are done: "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."
I propose a remedy to our habits of thought about Jesus. Maybe it can correct my own predilection to see him as the answer to my prayers, when I might also perceive me as the answer to his questions. It's not a difficult prescription I have in mind, but one that may be dislocating. That, if we are willing to inhabit the mind and heart of the man blind from birth who receives his sight at Jesus' hands, then we ought also to be ready to put ourselves thoroughly in the shoes of the rich man who did not give up his treasure but walked instead sadly away from the Galilean prophet. Or when we read of the Temptation of Christ in the wilderness, we might better identify with the tempter than with the tempted. And retelling the story of the woman caught in adultery, instead of seeing ourselves as the one about to be stoned, maybe catch a glimpse of ourselves ready to do the stoning.
When Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple, the one puffed up with his own righteousness, the other sure of his own damnation, Jesus wasn't only celebrating the example of the publican's humility, he was castigating the tendency of those of us secure in our faith and proud of it for thinking we are, after all, better than others.
Some churches claim they preach the "Whole Gospel." In my experience, that's usually false advertising. The whole gospel includes answers and questions. Jesus not only asks disciples, "What can I do for you?" He also asks, "What can you do for me?" Too long have churches operated on the assumption that "man's extremity is God's opportunity." It's about time, indeed it's always time, to insist that giving (heart, soul, and mind) is the principal duty of those who would follow in the Galilean's footstep.
That, after all, is the not-so-hidden secret of getting from heaven everything we need: giving all we've got.