Asking The Wrong Question
There’s this little confrontation between the Pharisees and Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40. It probably didn’t seem like much of a conflict to the casual observer. Yet, the casual observer didn’t have the benefit of Matthew’s commentary in verses 34-36:
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’”
On the outside this simply seems like a student wanting to learn from a teacher. Yet, this was a loaded question with the intention of trapping Jesus. So that the Pharisees could officially accuse him of heresy. (An opinion or belief that is different than the accepted opinions or beliefs.)
Jesus gives the reply that has now become famous. A passage of scripture that many have heard and memorized:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Yet, understanding the Pharisee’s intention, Jesus threw in a bonus answer. Not for this student, who was supposedly seeking wisdom, but for the crowd that was listening.
“And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
This answer was not only correct, seeing that there was a crowd of witnesses, it made it impossible for the Pharisees to accuse Jesus of any heresy whatsoever. All they could do was shake their heads and walk away. To plot again for another opportunity on another day.
Jesus answered their question, with an additional bonus answer to boot. Yet, Jesus only answered the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus met the Pharisees where they were. Even though his very presence meant something so much more profound. In essence, the Pharisees had asked Jesus the wrong question.
If the Pharisees truly wanted to trap Jesus, it would have required them to get out of their own way. It would have required the Pharisees to actually see Jesus for who he was. And then challenge him on that level. Which, of course, was an impossibility. For the Pharisees were never able to see Jesus on any other level than simply as an enemy.
If the Pharisees had asked Jesus this question: “What is a new command?” They would have been able to publicly argue that Jesus was a heretic. They asked Jesus about what they already knew, the Law. If they really wanted to trap Jesus in front of the crowd, they would have asked him about what they didn’t know, his fulfillment of the Law. Yet, how can someone ask anyone a question about what they don’t know?
That answer is simple. It just isn’t easy. Love them enough to get to know, before you ask any questions.
The Pharisees made the fatal flaw that human beings have been making since the Garden of Eden. They judged Jesus because they thought they knew Jesus. As opposed to actually getting to know Jesus, before judging him.
They put the proverbial cart before the horse. Jesus is bad. Jesus is wrong. Jesus is a heretic. Now let’s go out and prove it to ourselves and everyone else. Does that sound familiar? I just outlined every single political campaign in this country, since there have been political campaigns.
We are always asking the wrong questions. We ask questions of each other for which we have already formulated our answer. Thus, rendering it virtually impossible for our minds to be open to any different way, any new way. Thus, we are never open to any kind of transformation of what we believe we already know.
We approach life like an attorney in a courtroom. Someone who has been trained to never ask a question to which they don’t already know the answer. That is a great way to conduct a legal case. But life isn’t a legal case. Nobody is on trial here. Life is just you and me trying to figure this whole thing out, as best as we can.
It’s like life is a zero-sum game and we have to get all that we can, while the getting is good. And if anyone gets in our way we must destroy them. Or at least we must judgmentally see others as people trying to get mine, in some way, shape or form.
So, what would Jesus have said if the Pharisees had asked him, “What is a new command?”
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
If they truly wanted to trap Jesus and publicly charge him as a heretic, that would have been the answer they would have needed. Yet, they didn’t get to know Jesus well enough to even realize that this was a question. They simply decided that Jesus was a heretic and then they went out trying to prove it.
Jesus, on the other hand, shared himself with those who truly wanted to know him. People who didn’t come to him with a preconceived notion or a zero-sum game perspective. People who came to him to get to know him. People who loved him first and then asked questions later. People who were open to the truth that was right there in front of them. Those are the people to whom Jesus shared himself. As opposed to the people who only saw the truth that they had formulated, in their own minds. Because they couldn’t stand the fact that Jesus was right there in front of them.
Sadly, all of this is still the same today.