John 8:1-11, Fifth Sunday of Lent
Today’s Gospel reminds me of Fr-Dr James McTavish and his radical conversion story. Some years ago (when he was not yet a priest), McTavish was a full-time medical doctor. He had graduated from Cambridge school of medicine and was a first-class surgeon engaged in reconstructive plastic surgery.
Once while practicing in Sydney, he was called in the middle of the night. A young man in his early 20’s had just tried to kill himself by slashing severely his wrists. James McTavish was called to the ER to operate on his wrists, to mend and repair the torn muscles, tendons and nerves.
The next morning (after an eight-hour operation), McTavish visited the patient to assure him that he would be alright and that, in a few days, he could leave the hospital and go home.
When assured that he would be alright, the young man suddenly burst into tears. Weeping and sobbing profusely, the young man told him – “Dr, thank you so much for what you have done. you truly have been so kind. You have fixed my wrists. But WHO will fix my life now?”
“Who will fix my life now?”
Wow! That question, that simple question of the young patient jolted and haunted McTavish for some months. And in the end, that ONE single question ignited a fire in his heart. And eventually, it led him to decide to let go of his medical career and enter the seminary and become a priest.
So today, it is not just Dr McTavish. It is Fr-Dr McTavish.
And he is now a Verbum Dei Catholic missionary priest, working here right here in the Philippines.
My dear friends, it was Voltaire (the French writer and philosopher) who said “Judge a person not by the quality of his answers. Rather judge a person by the quality of his questions.”
How true! Often, we focus too much on people’s answers, forgetting that many times, seeking quality questions is just as important or even more important than seeking quality answers.
And this is especially true when doing spiritual discernment.
As spiritual writers tell us, quality discernment often begins with quality questions. Without quality questions, the quality of our discernment would lack depth and perceptivity, would lack insight and sensitivity.
And that is why St. Ignatius (as a teacher of discernment) believed much in the power of questions. In this way he would tell us Jesuits (including our co-workers) – do not just ask any question(s). Make sure you choose your questions well. So much so that when asking your questions (especially your top/primary questions), you include the following four key aspects of spiritual life. These four aspects are:
- inner feelings (or inner disposition);
- healing; and
Interestingly enough, all these four aspects can be found in St Ignatius’ favorite prayer called the Examen.
And that is why, when doing our Daily Examen, we cannot but ask quality questions regarding these four aspects, raising questions like –
- Right now, what am I most grateful for? Most thankful for?
- Or right now, what has been affecting me much? Touching me and moving me much?
- Or right now, what needs healing in me? Reconciling in me?
- And finally right now, what is the Lord telling me? Where is he leading me – drawing me? Where is he challenging me?
Thus for Ignatius, these are examples of the most important questions, the most pivotal questions that people can ask themselves daily.
Now what about us? What about you? Do we ever ask ourselves such questions or questions similar to them, especially when praying and reflecting on our lives?
My dear friends, it’s April, it’s 2019 – what key, primary questions have you been asking yourselves lately? And of course our top – primary questions (questions that we keep asking ourselves daily, again and again), they are very revelatory of where we are, of who we have become – now, at this point in our lives.
Precisely our top questions tell us what is important to us and what is not so important to us. They tell us where our deepest, truest self is engaged and where our heart, our core being genuinely is.
And yet the problem is, given our world today, our very consumeristic/materialistic world, not to mention our highly competitive and secular culture, there are so many things that prevent many of us, that hinder us from asking the deeper, more essential questions, regarding ourselves and regarding the true purpose and meaning of our lives – in general.Thus often we just get stuck with questions that are rather shallow and superficial lacking – depth and sense lacking – insight and sensitivity.
Shallow and superficial questions like
- What should I buy next?
- What should I consume next?
- What should I achieve or accomplish next?
- Where should I invest next?
- What must I do to be more successful?
And just stop there. End there.
Of course these questions are important too but then we need not get stuck, we should not get fixated on them.
Turning now to our Gospel for today, here we see our Lord asking a question to this woman caught in adultery. In fact – he asks two questions. And his questions are so simple and yet so powerful.
First, he asks her “Woman – where are they, those who wanted to stone you? Where are they now?”
Next he asks again, “Has anyone condemned you?”
Of course the answers to these two questions are most obvious, most clear. Yet our Lord asks them anyway. Not because he does not know the answers to these questions but mainly to allow the person (the adulterous woman in this case) to come face to face with herself and thus also come face to face with her own truth. And here, it is that awesome truth regarding her being a true “beloved” one of God, a true beloved daughter & child of God despite her being sinful and far from perfect.
Curiously, in the Gospel of John, we see our Lord doing this all the time. We see our Lord asking questions all the time.
No wonder Biblical scholars consider the Gospel of John as a Gospel of Questions. In fact the entire Gospel of John begins with a question and yes, ends with a question.
In the very first chapter when our Lord shows up and meets the first disciples for the very first time, right away what does our Lord do? He asks them a question, particularly when he sees them following him. And the question was “What are you looking for?”
Then in the very last chapter (John 21), when our Lord meets Peter for the first time after the resurrection, again what does our Lord do? Likewise he asks Peter a question. And if we can remember, the question was “Simon – son of John – do you love me?” And he asks Peter this question, nor just once or twice BUT three times.
And in most cases, whoever it was or whoever they were, whether it was Simon Peter and the first disciples or Mary Magdalene or the Samaritan woman or Martha or Nicodemus or the blind man or the Adulterous woman in today’s Gospel, our Lord’s question(s) were just so powerful, so compelling that it led the person(s) involved to a different level of consciousness, to a different level of insight, bringing about some radical change and conversion in them.
This is precisely what we see in today’s Gospel. The power of questions, the ability of questions to make or break people, to make or break us. This I believe is what today’s Gospel is all about.
Going back now to our earlier story –
If a single question truthfully faced and constantly pursued can change a person’s life like that, as in the case of Fr-Dr McTavish, so too can a single question change us and bring out the best in us. Yes indeed, “(Judge) a person not by the quality – of his answers. Rather judge a person by the quality of his questions.”
In this mass, let us pray for ourselves especially during this season of Lent – that we be reflective enough, daring enough to ask ourselves the deeper questions, the more essential questions in life and be led closer to the truthfulness of ourselves and to the truthfulness of our merciful and loving God – our God who never condemns us – no matter what.