I stepped into the studio pretty certain of myself. I had won statewide competitions. I knew how talented I was. After playing for my teacher, she told me I wasn’t very good. After listening to me play at my first piano lesson she went on to say that she didn’t know if I ever would be any good. “We’ll just have to wait and see …”
That was how my first piano lesson in music school went. I entered the studio with certainty. I left the studio in tears … totally broken, and more determined than I’d ever been.
Parents, teachers – any adult who works with children – has looked at a little one and thought: If you only knew … The list is long:
- If you only knew how fortunate you are …
- If you only knew how hard people have worked so you could …
- If you only knew how much you have to learn …
- If only you knew how foolish you look …
In an exchange with a woman who demonstrated high levels of both intellect and inquisitiveness, Jesus challenges her with the words: If you knew … (John 4). In the way that only Jesus can do it, he challenged her certainty without dismantling her spirit. He took her down in such a way as to leave her even more determined to bounce back. In fact, when the conversation was over, the woman who had come off so smart in the earlier exchange, comes to the point of acknowledging that her world has been expanded. Her “knowing” is now deeper, broader, truer than it was before. Jesus accomplishes this with her because he wouldn’t let her play games with her own life. In order to know who he was, she had to better know who she was herself.
The US Government is open for business. After two weeks of politics, putting hundreds of thousands of people on the thin ice of financial insecurity, their jobs hanging in the balance, things have returned to normal. During that time period, how many children the world over succumbed to devastating illness? How many people in our own country were stressed to the breaking point? Do we know what is really going on in the world? Do we even know what is going on in our own community? We might have an opinion about American know-how, American power. But who are we as a nation? Can we get over our own opinions about ourselves and really see who we are?
I remember hearing it said as a child – and saying it myself when some bit of news tilted toward the preposterous: How do you know? That playground challenge has far-reaching implications. How will we know? Upon what basis will we determine something is true or not? When do you trust your own instincts? When do you trust what a scientist tells you? When do you take a sacred text at face value? Who are the “experts” whose advice we will ultimately lean on? When should we shut it down, and when should we compromise to keep it open? How are you “knowing” today?
In the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells some self-assured religious leaders that in order to know God they had to know him. And as far as Jesus was concerned, nothing was more important in life than knowing God. In fact, he went so far as to say: This is eternal life, that we know God (John 17:3). As important as our opinions are to ourselves, they are not the greatest truth in the world. As important as it is to keep up with what is happening in the world, there is something more basic, more fundamental to a meaningful life than staying current. As essential as it is for the church to be relevant and connected to culture, it is more important that we remain firmly tethered to the truth that transcends cultures’ passing trends.
I think Jesus is telling us that it is possible for us to know. We believe Jesus lived so we could have a clean window into what is really true in life. What he did for the Samaritan Woman at the well that day, he continues to do for us … if only we will engage him in conversation.
There is another line that I’ve heard – and spoken on occasion. It is a line that indicates both surprise and some new truth exposed. We say it when people exceed our expectations, when circumstances work out better than we ever imagined, when situations arise that take things in a direction we didn’t know existed. Well, we say with a smile and a sigh, what d’ya know!
Have a great Thursday!