Reading 1: Jude 17, 20b-25
Psalm: 63:2, 3-4, 5-6
Gospel: Mark 11:27-33
For over 100 years now scholars have been involved in a quest of trying to figure out just what did Jesus exactly say and do? Are the words and actions recorded in the Gospels exactly what Jesus said and did, or were they the memories of multiple generations of believers in which Jesus words and actions were added to or subtracted from depending on certain cultural times and situations. Or perhaps a mixture of both?
It is interesting that one of the curious criterions that govern scholarly historical criticism of the Gospel texts today is one of "cultural congruency" or "contextual credibility." This criterion says that an event or saying of Jesus is likelier to be true if the account makes sense in the context of what is known about the culture in which the event unfolds.
Take for example, today’s gospel passage. The Pharisees, biblical scholars tell us, were probably closer to the thought of Jesus than any other Jewish sect of that day. They ask Jesus a simple question: "By what authority are you doing these things?" Jesus could have simply answered the question. But he doesn’t. He engages them in a debate. Why?
It is important to note that inherent within the Jewish religious cultural tradition is the use of questioning to bring about a certain revelation or transmission of divine truth. Did Jesus really want to know their opinion of John’s baptism? I doubt it. But he did want the Pharisees to think out of the box, to work it out, to struggle for themselves with his question and in answering it would clearly see the answer to their own. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to take a leap of faith. And given how this passage ends…They don’t!
Now let’s turn the tables. You are reading this passage for the first time. You have questions about this Jesus: who was he? What he was about? Do you take up Jesus’ challenge and make that leap of faith? Or do you act like the Pharisees fearful of answering for what you might lose?
I believe the deeper truth this event tries to teach us is that questioning, doubt, struggle, thinking out of the box, is all a part of our faith journey. Jesus rarely gives the easy answer. Rather he makes you work for it, so that the answer itself has the potential power to radically change your life.
And so, quite to the contrary, the faithful are not those who have it all figured out. They are not those who are always comfortable in their beliefs.
Rather Jesus shows us by his words and actions that those who are called into deeper relationship with him are those who question, who doubt and who take up the struggle. These are truly the faithful who can sing with the Psalmist: "My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God." And may that thirst never be satiated!
Patrick Quinn ([email protected]) is the director of Planned Giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.