“The Answer To The Question”


Here are my thoughts for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 29: 1, 4 – 7; 2 Timothy 2: 8 – 15; and Luke 17: 11 – 19.

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If you haven’t noticed, there is something unique about this date. It isn’t that it is a “double” date, which it is. And it isn’t necessarily that it is a “triple” date, which it is as well. There is a “double” date in every month and there are a string of “triple” dates in every decade.

No, the uniqueness in this number comes from another source. Just as 6:02 am on October 23rd can be used to represent Avogadro’s number (NA = 6.02 x 1023), so too does the binary representation of today (101010) have a second meaning.

In base 10, 101010 is equivalent to 42. And, if you are a fan or follower of Douglas Adams, then you know that this is the answer to the question about life, the universe and everything. In the process of hitch-hiking across the galaxy, the hero of the Adams’ novels encounters the ultimate computer which provides the ultimate answer, “42”. Unfortunately, the question for which this is the answer is “what is 6 * 9?” And, as I pointed out in “The Answer to the Question”, this means one of two things; either the universe and life itself are highly irrational, or whoever wrote the original question was very, very confused.

There is probably something wrong in and with society today and this is causing great conflict, grief, and distress in our lives today. Now, there are some who will gladly tell you what the solution is. Some of these individuals will be glad to sell you the secret to the solution for $19.95 plus shipping and handling charges.

Others will merrily tell you that the answer is found in the “Good Book”, the Bible, and all you have to do is send their ministry any amount of money you want and it will be used as seed money and, in no time at all, your money will be returned to you ten-fold and all your problems will disappear. Other religious types will say that the problems of this country are rooted in the moral structure of this country and that the key to finding the solution and leading a better life is found in a rigid, inflexible structure where they do the thinking for you and where one’s ability to think freely is limited to matters of faith and faith alone.

And there are those, of course, who hear the words of the fake preachers and the extreme preachers and say that they are the words of all ministers and they represent the ideas of all the church and are reflective of the Gospel in its basic intent. But the problem with these modern thinkers who proudly bear the title of atheist is that they do not offer a solution either. What they do offer is a non-religion religion, a belief system based on non-belief which is as irrational as those fundamentalists who offer a limited worldview or those prosperity gospel preachers who only wish to line their own pockets.

Now, as a chemist and one who believes in research, I have to think that all problems have solutions, even if the solution is not readily or easily obtained. The critical thing about solving problems is to not limit one’s self in finding solutions. Perhaps this is what Thomas Kuhn came to call a paradigm shift; a radical change in the view of the world because the evidence before you required a different view of the world. We limit our solutions because we have limited ourselves.

I have to imagine that it was that way with the people of Israel at the time of the writing of the Book of Jeremiah. They were in exile in Babylon and Jerusalem was far away in ruins and desolate. The Babylonians had taken the best of the best, the brightest of the brightest and then destroyed their homeland. It was as if the world had come to an end for them.

And then what does God, through Jeremiah, tell them to do? They were to build houses and plant gardens. They were to marry and have children. They were to make Babylon their home. I would have thought that many people would have felt that God would have wanted them to do just the opposite. After all, Jerusalem was their home; it was where the Temple was and it was where God lived.

But Jeremiah states that if things go well for Babylon, then things will go well for the people of Israel. Because somewhere along the line, God has not deserted them; He was right there with them. If I understand the context of these writings and the time of the exile, it is a time when the concept of God having a home is altered. To put God in the Temple and only the Temple limits God to the desires of the people; if the Temple is destroyed, then God is destroyed and the people lose. In a sense, that is why the Babylonians destroyed the Temple; it was to destroy the hopes of the people.

But, if God resides with the people, then the hopes cannot be destroyed. And if the people begin a new life with God in a new place then the hopes will be reborn and continue. It is exactly that which Paul is expressing to Timothy; that our lives are intertwined with God through Christ when we have accepted Christ.

Those who find solace in the words know that there is hope. It may be that they have encountered someone who gave them hope or there was a moment in their own lives when they saw a fleeting glimpse of home.

Ten lepers encountered Christ on the road between Galilee and Samaria. Obeying all protocols, they asked for mercy but from a distance. And Jesus granted them that mercy, cleansing them of their illness. And when they had all discovered that they were clean, one of them came back to say “thank you”. Now, I have written about this before (“Saying Thank You”) but I wondered what happened to other nine. Oh, I am sure they were cured of the disease but did they change their lives so that they wouldn’t get it again.

I don’t think it was necessarily that important that the one who did come back was a Samaritan. It could have been anyone who was an outcast in the society of that time. But Jesus chose a Samaritan to make a point, that the world that He was offering was a new world, a world with room for all and with a new vision. It was not a world limited by place, time, or ability. But it did require that each individual choose to begin a new life in Christ.

And there we are. We stare out at the world around us and we wonder. “What it will take to change the world; to remove the strife and violence; to make the world productive and the people healthy?” I don’t that the world will ever be free of differences; I don’t think that I would want to live in such a world. It is the differences that make this world but it is our inability to accept differences because our visions are limited that make this world what it is today. We want to know the answer but we may not necessarily know the question.

The answers to these questions are not found in some wacky, misguided computer that was programmed improperly when it was built. The answer is not found in some secret sold only in the late hours or early mornings of the day on an obscure shopping channel. They are most definitely not found in the words of a false shaman or preacher who would have you follow his interpretation of the Gospel. And they are not found in those who say there are no words to turn to.

There are words to turn to and they have been spoken over the years. The answers to the questions we ask are found in our heart but if our heart is empty, the answers have no meaning. For me, the foundation of life is found in Christ and it is through Christ that I can offer wisdom and thought, solace and comfort, and the promise of hope for a better tomorrow. If you are seeking the answers, if there is that emptiness in your heart, then Christ can be the answer. And if you have found Christ, then you are invited to share that discovery with others.

The question is and will always be, “will you follow me?” Only you know the answer to that very basic question.

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