Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 6, 2016)

Questions played an important role in Jewish theological, religious, political and cultural life. The so-called “Rabbinical method” presumed that the best way to come to know the truth was to learn to raise the right questions.

Elie Wiesel –– author, scholar, and holocaust survivor –– notes this in the opening pages of his book Night. In it, Wiesel’s mentor explained to him “with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.” (Bantam Books, 1960)

There is power in a question. There is promise in a question. There is possibility in a question.

This understanding sets the context for today’s selection from Luke’s Gospel. The question of the Sadducees about marriage and the afterlife (not unlike the question posed by the chief priests and scribes in the verses immediately preceding these verses regarding paying taxes to Caesar) may not have been merely an attempt to trip up Jesus or to discredit him: it may also have been a legitimate desire to settle an ongoing dispute between the Sadducees and the Pharisees (both groups’ religious leaders in their own rite) who disagreed on a variety of issues.

As so many times before, however, they did not like, understand or accept Jesus’ answer.

Herein lies the tragedy.

The scribes, the priests, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were all raised in a culture that viewed questions as the path to mystical truth. Ironically, they may have had the most to gain from Jesus –– the embodiment of all mystical truth –– precisely because they had so many encounters with him, perhaps more than any other groups mentioned in the Gospel combined! Sad to say, it appears that they consistently asked the wrong questions: shortsighted questions, self-serving questions, disingenuous or insincere questions, all with a pre-determined answer in mind.

When asked why he prayed every day, Elie Wiesel’s (Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Prize Winner) mentor responded: “I pray to the God within me that God will give me the strength to ask the right questions.”

How often in our daily lives with Jesus and with one another do we ask for, desire, or even demand answers? How much energy do we invest wanting to know the bottom line? Yet, for all our efforts, are we any closer to knowing the things that really matter, the concerns of earth that lead to the things of heaven? Why does our understanding of Jesus’ will for us, desire for us, longing and love for us sometimes seem so elusive?

Could it be that we, too, are failing to ask the right questions?