Reflecting on our recent teaching from Jn 8 (where Jesus & the Pharisees seemed to be talking at cross-purposes), I am reminded of how often I persist in trying to have one conversation with Jesus, while he is wants to engage with me about something else entirely.  It’s not that my insistent questions are not valid; he truly understands and honours them.  But he also knows that so often they are not the real issue for me, or at least not the issue for me today.  I’m reminded of the typical politicians response, when questioned by journalists: “I understand… but the real question we should be asking is…”  And (unlike politicians) Jesus is unfailingly accurate in his assessment.

If I want to grow in openness to the Spirit, I need to allow Him to set the agenda, to ask me the searching questions, and to direct our conversations.

It reminds me of some musings from many years ago, about the dangers inherent in ‘Not Answering’.  Mark records Jesus as saying to the critics watching him:

“Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?  But they wouldn’t answer him (Mk 3:4)

There’s a time to stay silent, to not respond, to refuse to answer. There’s a time to be quiet… (Ecclesiastes 3:7).  And often we get it wrong.  We speak when we’d have done much better to stay silent, but we can’t resist making ‘that comment’.  Prompted by pride we fail to restrain our tongues, and often regret it later.

But not always.

When Jesus asks a question of us we do well to try to answer, however weakly.  Because in challenging us with a question Jesus is presenting us with a chance to grow in self-awareness, to learn, and to change.  And to refuse to answer, to stubbornly remain silent (as the Pharisees did here) not only betrays a hard heart, it solidifies that hard-heartedness.  For some who were watching Jesus, as he healed the man with the deformed hand, this was a pivotal moment.  They could have responded to his question, and acknowledged (perhaps sheepishly) that their petty Sabbath regulations had led them to an absurd position.  But their pride wouldn’t allow them.  So they refused to answer, and their refusal hardened them – with deadly consequences.

Hardness-of-heart is always what develops when we refuse to answer Jesus when he addresses us.

“Today, when you hear his voice, don’t harden you hearts…” (Heb 3:7)