Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
I don’t know how many times I’ve encountered the phrase that Jesus is THE answer. I understand the theology. I also understand that we pray to Jesus when we are grief-stricken and yearning, looking for the one clear truth. When we believe we don’t get an answer—particularly if our questions come from the place of our deepest soul—we genuinely feel in crisis, abandoned. Thus, I’d like to let both God and us off the hook, even a little.
In this week’s gospel from Matthew, the Temple authorities put a clear either/or question to Jesus, and he turns it back on them. Jesus shuts down the conversation without a satisfactory resolution. Instead he tells a parable, and asks the people to judge on their own. Jesus had strong opinions on all manner of big and little things. What gives in this gospel with Jesus’ equivocation?
Several things, I think. The learned religious know-it-alls are engaged in theological hair splitting, and Jesus is not going to get sucked into a game of semantic flakery. Jesus came to reveal truth about God, redemption, and life. Question him about big things, that have real sinews and bones. That is not to say that we can’t bring our more modest, day-to-day issues into our prayer life. Yet, also, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” in as we say in today’s parlance.
More subtly, I think Jesus is also saying that we human beings have the right and responsibility to consider and decide things on our own, in real time. Not the mountaintop truths, to be sure, but down in the valleys where we all live. That is one of the reasons that our sense of what is right and wrong, and just and unjust has shifted over the millennia. St. Paul teaches that once we were children, but now we’re adults, and we put aside childish things. Also, remember that Jesus taught several times that what we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. God created us with a mind for a reason.
God provides guidance and mid-course corrections, yet allows us to work out problems as best we can, revising as we go along. God is saying that we have our own work to do in bringing the fully revealed Kingdom of God to earth. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but take life and the quest for truth seriously.