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On the Need for Curiosity in Evangelization (Part Two)

March 13, 2017

This is part two of an article on curiosity. We are considering the following four aspects:

I. Premises Related to Curiosity
II. Problems Regarding Curiosity
III. Pictures Reinforcing Curiosity
IV. Personal Requirement of Curiosity

Please see yesterday’s post for an introduction to the topic and a discussion of the first two items. In today’s post, we consider the third and fourth.

III. Pictures Reinforcing Curiosity – We have already reflected a good deal on this aspect in the introduction. Jesus generated a lot of curiosity because of the mystery of His person. How did this simple Galilean “get all this?” This was a cause of wonder in the people of His time. Jesus also generated a lot of curiosity; He cultivated it because He saw the value in doing so.

Jesus seldom gave straight answers to questions. Instead, He would say things like “Come and see.” Or He would answer questions with questions, or respond using parables which were often riddle-like and far from straightforward.

Consider how Jesus deals with this simple question:

[The Temple leaders said] “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM” (Jn 8:25-28).

Notice that when asked who He is, the Lord does not answer pedantically by saying, “I am God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word made Flesh hypostatically united to my human nature.” Instead, He holds the mystery and refers them to their own hearts, which have stubbornly refused to listen to Him and accept the evidence of who He is.

Indeed, Jesus asserted elsewhere (Jn 5:30-46) that John the Baptist testified to Him. Scripture testifies to who Jesus is because it is clear that He fulfilled countless scriptural passages. He has worked miracles, which testify to His divinity. And finally, the Father is testifying to Him in their hearts. If they will but search their hearts, they will know who He is. They have fourfold evidence and testimony.

Jesus’ reluctance to provide straight answers unnerves even many of us true believers, but it is this very mystery that keeps us curious and ever studying His teachings. The implicit yet clear admonition in this approach is that we should come and see more, come and listen more. We are to ponder more deeply and spend our lives going ever deeper into the meanings of our questions and the answers the Lord provides, which are far richer than a simple one-line response.

While quick apologetics has an important place in this information age, so does holding on to the mystery of what questions really point to so as not to stifle the power of mystery to elicit curiosity.

IV. Personal Requirement of Curiosity This leads us to the personal challenge and charge. We cannot simply wait for mystery to be rediscovered or to emerge. We are called to be the mystery, to be the one who brings out curiosity in others! There ought to be something of a deep mystery in us as we live among our fellow denizens of the world. If we are truly living in Christ, we will not fit neatly into worldly categories and distinctions. There were at least three “political parties” in Jesus’ day: Sadducees (Herodians), Pharisees, and Zealots. Jesus did not fit into any of their little boxes. The parties only agreed on one thing: this Jesus must go. How about you? Are you worthy of Jesus Christ or just “the party”? Are you worthy of Jesus Christ or just the world?

If we are to be a mystery to the world, we cannot simply desire to fit in, desperately seeking worldly approbation. We will defy categorization because we serve a higher, broader, and transcendent vision.

As such, we will be a mystery to others. Seeing our integrity, they cannot understand us in worldly ways, but neither can they simply discredit us “hacks” or shills for political parties. Jesus is broader, higher, and deeper than worldly parties or categories—and so are those who truly follow Him.

This elicits curiosity because it is a mystery. Of this, Sherry Weddell writes,

The Catholic life is meant to be a “sign of contradiction” in this world. That doesn’t mean that we are to be nay-saying curmudgeons. Rather, it means that we are to live lives of such inexplicable joy, love, faith, and peace (even in trial) that all the normal categories by which nonbelievers try to classify us won’t work. We are neither Jew nor Gentile, fish nor fowl, “conservative,” nor “liberal,” nor any of the other tribes of this world.

Living curiously means more than being “nice.” It requires that we think and act in Kingdom-oriented and countercultural ways in our daily lives. For instance, forgiving and asking forgiveness of those who have betrayed and abused us are perhaps the most countercultural things we can do. … Likewise, being in healthy relationships, caring for the poor, sharing possessions freely, praying for healing and provision, and even simple family prayer times can be startling countercultural witnesses.

To be a witness … means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist (Forming Intentional Disciples, p. 148, 151).

Scripture affirms this as well:

Always be prepared to render an account to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in you; do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

This text presupposes that people notice a hope in us, a stable, serene, and confident joy or hope. This is mysterious and elicits curiosity. In curiosity, one might remark, “When all of the rest of us are worn out by stress, complaints, gossip, and office politics, you don’t seem anxious, or obsessed with position, or hungry to hear all the gossip. In fact, I’ve never heard an ugly word come out of your mouth. What is it about you? What keeps you so calm and charitable?”

In a world where so many lead disordered lives (sexually, emotionally, and intellectually); where envy, jealousy, greed, power, and position consume so many; a person that is not disordered and beset with the deep drives of sin and negativity is a mystery. People who get married and stay married and who actually seem to love their spouse and children are increasingly mysterious to others. They elicit the question, “How do you do it?” People who don’t just parrot the angry and often-foolish slogans of the world or who are not endlessly distracted and controlled by the news and the entertainment culture are often mysterious to those around them.

Distinction: Of course, pointing out the value of mysteriousness is not an encouragement to become some sort of spooky oddball. Mystery is not spooky, it is attractive and evokes wonder and curiosity.

There is a remarkable passage in the Acts of the Apostles in which Peter and John elicit this sort of response:

When [the Sanhedrin] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they recognized that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Here is the goal and challenge for us: Do we provoke astonishment or even surprise from people around us? Are we a mystery that engenders curiosity? Would anyone conclude that we “have been with Jesus?”

The point is that we cannot simply ponder mystery and curiosity as a tool for “the Church.” We must also be the mystery, be the one who evokes curiosity and attracts others to Christ and to the faith.

Summation: In this two-part essay, we have pondered the powerful effect of mystery and curiosity in evangelization. In most cases mystery is very attractive. Curiosity, while not discipleship itself, assists in a process that leads to discipleship; we should not too quickly diffuse its power with simple or pat answers. We must learn to teach and spread the faith not merely by answering questions, but also by asking them. Replies are good, but invitations are often even better. “Come and see” can be a rich response that provides some answers but also insists that there is more to the story. This mystery is not merely to be found in the pages of a catechism, or in the sacred liturgy; it must also be found in us who live in the world but are mysteriously not of the world.

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