October 2-3, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are questions in this life that are nothing more than requests for information, such as “Which way to the court house?” But most questions want more than that.
Good questions are those that get to the heart of the matter and lead us down the right path. I once heard of a High School guidance counselor who asked his students what they would do with their lives if they won a million dollars in the lottery. Whatever the answer was, that was what they should pursue. It is a bit simplistic, perhaps, but the question was meant to help them focus on what they really loved rather than simply trying to go to the same college as their friends. Sometimes we need a question like that which re-focus us.
But not all questions are good. Some questions shouldn’t be answered. The premise is wrong. A good example of an evil question is impious question: “Can God create a rock so big He can’t lift it?” The right response is not an answer, but a rebuke: “Don’t tempt God.” It is better to ask a stupid question than a evil question.
Some questions might seem stupid on the surface, but that is because they are asking for something other than what the words convey. There are circumstances and questions behind the question that complicate the matter. Such questions must be answered with great sensitivity. The best example of this is the famous bedroom inquiry: “Does this skirt make me look fat?” No matter how much she insists that she just wants your opinion about the skirt, what she always wants is some assurance that you love her and that she is beautiful. Trust me on this. Do not be fooled by her insistence that just wants an opinion about the skirt.
Surely there are simple requests: “Would you please pass the salt?” and the like. But the most common use of questions, in classrooms and at the dinner table, is manipulation in one way or another. Even the “Does this skirt make me look fat?” is a bit of a manipulation. So also the questions of the Pharisees. They sought to test Our Lord. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” That is a bit like being asked to pick your favorite food. It is not enough information. It requires more questions. “Do you mean our favorite food for breakfast or for a late night snack? In summer or winter? At a restaurant or at home? Do I have to make it myself or is it already ready?” We can’t just pick a single favorite food. There is too much we love, and context matters.
The Pharisees knew this was an impossible question. That was the point. They wanted Him to pick a single commandment and then defend his answer. They wanted to debate. No matter which commandment He chose, they would argue about it. They would weigh the pros and cons, and so forth. They would pretend as though they were His equals. In this way, they hoped to demonstrate their wisdom to Him and to put Him in His place.
Our Lord’s wisdom would not play along with the pharisees. He did not choose a commandment. He summarized. He cut through their vain request and exposed the foolishness of playing games with God’s law, of pitting God’s Word against itself. Love fulfills the law. Love God and love your neighbor, perfectly, and without fail.
But even as Our Lord’s words cut through the nonsense, so also did they cut to the bone. For this standard is as impossible for fallen men to keep, as it is easy for a child to understand. Love perfectly. That is the Law. No debate, no clever arguments, no deep thoughts, just: love. Self-satisfaction, philosophical dalliances, and endless excuses are brought to an end. If you have not loved with everything you have, if you have not been constant, perfect, then you have failed. Repent.
But then Our Lord ask the more penetrating question: “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They say: “David’s Son.” “Fine. But then how is that He is at the same time David’s Son and David’s Lord?”
If you want to do the work of a theologian it is not found in ethics or natural law. It is not found in strategies for winning elections and the pleasing layout of magazines. The work of a theologian is contemplating this question: “How is that the Lord YHWH, Creator of heaven and earth, is David’s Son?”
The Pharisees do not answer the question. They are afraid of it. But we are not. We are baptized. We belong to Jesus Christ. We are forgiven and sanctified. We cannot fully articulate the mystery of this question, but we can recognize and confess how it is that David’s Lord is also David’s Son. We do it every week in the Creed. We do it with the hymns we sing. Our children do it in Catechism class. The Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary, who was a descendant of King David. The Word of God entered into her ear and took up residence in her womb. He joined Himself to us, became one of us, was born as a Man and placed Himself under the law in order to redeem us. After He was conceived in St. Mary, with full knowledge of the events, St. Joseph took her as his wife. St. Joseph, who is also a descendant of David, became the legal guardian of Our Lord. This Christ, David’s Son and David’s Lord, loves God the Father and God the Holy Spirit with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength, without fail. He loves all men as well. He loves every man, woman, and child who has ever lived, is living, or will live, so much so that He laid down His life for them. And no man has greater love than this that he will lay down his life for his friends. But this Man, David’s Lord, laid down His life for His enemies. His love is greater than that of mere man. He is Love and He fulfills the Law. He is God and Man. He is Christ, our Savior, our Hope, our Life.
This is the question that guides and defines all our life: “How can it be that David’s Lord is David’s Son?” All the Scriptures testify of Christ. This question leads us deeper and deeper into the mystery of Divine Love as revealed in God’s Word It satisfies and cleanses us, even as it leads to more questions. The Love of God fulfills the Law. He forgives sins. He, David’s Lord and David’s Son, joins men, Pharisees and Gentiles included, to God. He brings them to heaven. Thus do we stand before God, justified, as dear children, as His beloved, chaste Bride.
Nonetheless, His holiness is overwhelming. Like Isaiah in the Temple, we are afraid, insecure. We want to ask a good question, seeking, probing questions. We want to show Him that we’ve been paying attention, that we get it, that we desire to learn more from Him. But our quivering fear gives itself away. With tears in our eyes, all we manage to stutter is: “Does this skirt make me look fat?” And our Bridegroom sweeps us up in His arms. He covers us with kisses and says: “You are radiant. Immaculate. Beautiful. You are perfect. No creature in all of creation has ever been so lovely. Let’s get rid of that stupid skirt. It is in the way.”
In + Jesus’ Name. Amen.