The right question

If you were going to ask God one question, what would you ask?

If you were going to ask God one question, what would you ask?

The Sadducees know, or think they know, at any rate. They think they know an awful lot, actually—Luke tells us that they go to ask Jesus this question about the Resurrection, even though they don’t believe in the Resurrection. It’s just like that one know-it-all kid in school who asks you a question that they already know the answer to… because they want to “test” you.

And it’s a question that is really really technical. It’s not “is the Resurrection real”. No, it’s a question that requires knowing all about the laws of Moses for this ridiculous hypothetical situation which probably never happened. Did they really want to know the answer to the question? Or were they just trying to ask a question just to ask a question?

And Jesus sees through this trap—this bad faith question asked by people who are only interested in discrediting his ministry.

The woman with seven husbands—that is not the problem. They “neither marry nor are given in marriage”. Technicalities like marriage aren’t actually going to matter in the Resurrection.

But the real problem here, is that they’re asking a question about something that they don’t even believe in themselves!

This morning’s readings are a tale of two cities.

On the one hand, we have the Sadducees asking pointless questions to the God of the living. But they aren’t the only people asking questions this week. Our psalmist also approaches God with a question…

We might call it a question, or a demand. It’s really a petition, a desperate question to God: please save me. I’ve done all the right things, and I’m still hurting.

Won’t you save me?

Won’t you show me your marvelous loving kindness?

Won’t you keep me as the apple of your eye? Hide me under the shadow of your wings?

Won’t you save me?!

Two different readings. Two different kinds of questions.

It seems pretty obvious that the Sadducees are a good example of what not to do when it comes to asking pointless questions.

So what sorts of questions are we supposed to ask?

What are we supposed to do to be faithful followers of Christ?

It can be completely exhausting to walk around in the world sometimes. There’s so many things competing for our time. Our energy. Our money. Our compassion. There’s so many competing definitions of what it means to “be faithful”

“ be perfect”

“pray 5x a day”

“read the Bible once a year”

“give this much money to these organizations”

“pay attention to this crisis”

This is exhausting. But I don’t think any of this, in the end, is THE key to being faithful—even if it might be a helpful tool.

The God of the living doesn’t need your perfection, doesn’t need my piety, doesn’t need these tools. Our call to faithfulness, really, is about our attention.

We don’t have to have the answers.

But I’m convinced that we need to ask the right questions.

What is the right question?

Do you know that phrase that “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”? I do—I hear it all the time in classes—it’s a very common thing for a professor to say first day of an intro class… “there’s no such thing as a stupid question, so ask it, because someone else probably has that question too”. Or, if you’re a teacher or a parent, maybe you’ve said the same thing: “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”.

But we all know the feeling when someone inevitably pipes up and asks… well, you know, a stupid question. So some people think this adage is wrong, that there can be stupid questions… and one author names, among others, the wrong kind of question as a question “that can be answered on one’s own with complete certainty”.

I think the Sadducees’ question fits into this camp, after all, they didn’t even believe that the question THEY ASKED was relevant to their worldview. They had an answer.

It was the wrong question. Jesus doesn’t spend time with it because it’s not really the question that needs to be asked.

It was the wrong question.

Questions are not bad things. Even stupid ones. The religious authorities’ test of Jesus was only a wrong question because it wasn’t a real question.

What is the right question to ask Jesus?

A right question… is a real question.

It is a real question. It is the question, or questions, or pleas or demands that you want to offer before God.

It’s not the question you ask because you think you’re smarter than God. It’s not the question to ask just for the sake of asking a question.

It’s the question that is bubbling inside your soul right now. The one that you hear on really sad or happy days, or on quiet evenings alone when the wind whistles outside your door.

It’s the question that you ask God in the midst of grief and despair and joy and wondering.

Perhaps your question is from the Psalms, perhaps like the Psalmist you are asking “won’t you save me?” The Psalms, Ecclesiasties, the Prophets, Lamentations—there’s so many right questions in the Bible.

If you were going to ask God one question, what would you ask?

The question or questions that you’re thinking of, that’s the question that God is waiting to hear. That’s the question that Jesus is waiting outside the door of your heart to answer

There is a famous painting by pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt that hangs in the chapel of Keble College, Oxford. It’s called “The Light of the World”—perhaps you’ve seen a picture of it. In in, Christ stands, with the faint glimmer of sunrise peeking through the trees behind him. He takes up most of the frame—benevolent, reflective, in rich clothing with a crown of thorns. He holds a lantern in one hand—the other is raised—knocking on a wooden door. This is a door which is covered with ivy. There is no knob or keyhole.

The door represent the human soul, which according to the description, cannot be opened from the outside. No lock. No key. Christ does not have the key. But Christ stands and knocks—asking to be let in.

How shall we let him in?

If we wait until all the dishes are clean, and the floor is mopped, and we go to church every Sunday and pray perfectly and read the Bible every day… for some of us, Christ will be waiting a long time.

But Christ stands and knocks—asking to be let in.

Instead of the waiting until we have all the answers, perhaps what will open the door of your soul in this season, is the question that you and I have been afraid to ask.

The real question, that perhaps seems stupid. Or like something I should know already.

The God of the living stands and knocks—asking to be let in.

What question will open the door of your heart?

Audio Recording: Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waldorf.
Audio often differs from written text.

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World, 1851-52. Oil on canvas, 122 x 60.5 cm. Keble College, Oxford. Scanned from Judith Bronkhurst, ‘William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné’ (Yale University Press, 2006).

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