No Answer–Amazing!

April 18, 2011

Jesus gives no answer. That’s probably an over-looked detail in this holy-week observance. Jesus gives no answer. And in this world where Google makes us experts in nearly every discipline or craft known to humankind and to the alien life forms we’ve yet to discover—giving no answer may be the hardest exercise of faith.

Many of you may already be familiar with the famous line of Saint Francis of Assisi who said something like, Preach the gospel and if necessary use words. And I like the sentiment of that. I like its moxie. In many respects words are overrated and depleted of their energy. And yet, I’m not sure that’s what’s happened for Jesus of Nazareth, standing before the governor of Palestine. In my view, Jesus has all kinds of words available to him, and if he wanted to, I think he could have persisted in arguing and making answer after answer.

Words, however, must do more than reach back into the past, where they’ve been honed and crafted into poems and into letters and into grandiose novels. Words must also reach forward into two things, two things that will become very evident in the gospel story.

What I’m saying is this: all the words and questions and answers that Jesus has given—all of them reach for the pain that he must suffer on the cross. And, you see, without that suffering the words of Jesus just don’t carry the freight that they need to carry.

Words like love and words like kingdom of heaven, for example, don’t really point to anything unless we see the Son of God willing and perfectly able to endure the mocking and the torture and the horrific feeling of being abandoned and cut off from God’s Holy Spirit.

So, this week, we marshal out the answers and we drill one another in the story of redemption. But let’s not forget that at its very center this story is the story of one who finally “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.”

Let’s not forget: the world at large is no longer waiting for us to explain and make sense of the Bible for them. Biblical knowledge and charismatic preaching will only take us so far. And then there’s the plunge. Then comes the face to face participation in suffering. Jesus, of course, promises to meet us there. And once we’ve been there, with him, my sense is that the words and the answers do return to our minds and to our lips. But they don’t return without venturing to this place, where Jesus gives no answer and simply waits for God’s vindication.

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