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Rabbi Akiva and His Questions

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Rabbi Akiva was walking home one night on the same path he always traveled, except that this night was incredibly foggy and he missed his usual turn off the path.

Soon he encounters a massive fortress.

At the gate the Rabbi hears the voice of a guard yelling to him from the wall, “Who are you and why are you here?”

Upon hearing those words, the Rabbi asks: “How much are you paid for your work?

“Two shekels a day,” the guard responded.

Rabbi Akiva then looks up at the guard and says, “I will pay you twice that if you follow me to my home and ask me those very same questions every single morning.”

WWJD is less helpful than WIJD

WWJD bracelets were common place when I was younger. The effort in this movement was to encourage people to consider a choices and actions through the question, "What would Jesus do?" It is noble to think about what Jesus would do in different situations and I have asked this question myself. 

I am sure this question has given numerous people reason to pause maybe make a wise choice. However, from what I know about human beings, the chances are greater this question was used to justify a decision already made or to guilt someone to a particular action. So while it is a helpful question, it is less helpful than "What is Jesus doing?"

The obvious difference in WIJD is the verb tense. It is a question asked of the present, not of the past. What would Jesus do is something we often have to guess at. What is Jesus doing can be brought into greater clarity with spiritual disciplines and community.

Practices like discernment, prayer, reflection and contemplation are all helpful for us to pause and consider what is Jesus doing right now. In our midst, at this moment. 

Christians of all denominations believe a wide variety of things about Jesus, but there is at least one thing all Christians can agree on. We all want to be where Jesus is. We all want to be where Jesus is going. We all want to be on what Jesus is doing.

So lets start asking.  

Can You Solve This Jewish Riddle?

This is an old Jewish joke/parable that you can find all around but in case you have not read/heard it, here is a parable of men going down a chimney. Can you solve it? 

A young man knocks on the door of the Rabbi. The man says, “I would like to study the Talmud.”

“Do you know Aramaic and Hebrew and have you studied the Torah?” the rabbi asks.

“No, Rabbi. But don’t worry. I graduated summa cum laude in philosophy, and just finished my doctoral dissertation on Socratic logic. I believe that I am ready to study the Talmud.”

The rabbi says, “If you wish I am willing to examine you in logic, and if you pass that test I will teach you Talmud.”

The young man agrees.

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The Rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

The one with the dirty face washes his face,“ he answers wearily.

“Wrong. The one with the clean face washes his face. Examine the logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face.”

 “I cannot believe I did not think of that!” the young man says. “Give me another test.”

The rabbi again holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 "The one with the clean face washes his face, you just said.”

 “Wrong. Each one washes his face. Examine the logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So the one with the clean face washes his face. When the one with the dirty face sees the one with the clean face wash his face, he also washes his face. Therefor they each wash their face.”

“I didn’t think of that, but now I understand. Test me again.” says the young man.

The rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 “Each one washes his face."  

“Wrong. Neither one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. But when the one with the clean face sees the one with the dirty face doesn’t wash his face, he also doesn’t wash his face. So neither one washes his face.”

The young man presses on. “I am qualified to study Talmud. Please give me one more test.”

The rabbi groans as he lifts two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

 “Neither one washes his face.”

 “Wrong. Do you now see why Socratic logic is an insufficient basis for studying Talmud? Tell me, how is it possible for two men to come down the same chimney, and for one to come out with a clean face and the other with a dirty face? Don’t you see? The whole question is  foolishness! If you spend your whole life trying to answer foolish questions, all your answers will be foolish, too.”

No Longer Asking How I Want to be Remembered

Photo by  Madison Grooms  on  Unsplash

Today marks what is known in the liturgical calendar as All Saint's Day. It is the day the Church remembers the saints who have died and who continue to teach and guide us even as they are no longer walking among us. Those who have come before us have much to teach us, if we could take the time to listen and see. 

Many of us think about how we want to be remembered when we die. This is a fine question. It forces us to consider the ways we live our lives and the story that people tell about us. It is a social check to encourage people to be kind and generous. You don't want to be remembered as a curmudgeon do you? 

Recently, I heard someone say that they used to ask themselves how they wanted to be remembered, but then something dawned on them. How they want to be remembered is not as interesting compared to the question, "Why do I want to be remembered at all?" 

The question of how we want to be remembered challenges our outward actions, but why we want to be remembered challenges our desires and motivations. It is our desires that drive action, thus our desires need to be examined and vetted.

Why do you want to be remembered at all?