When Jesus saw [the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years] lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
“Who is going to bring the pie?”
Most of the year, this is not a question I hear, let alone a pressing one. But for two weeks in the middle of November, it becomes timely, even urgent. This week, I’ve heard it in two different settings: first, in my own family group chat, as we planned for Thanksgiving; second, in chains of emails between clergy, as we planned for the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service. (Side note: if you’ve never heard the word “ecumenical” before, it literally means “one house” and refers to any cross-denominational work as Christians.)
In my family chat, it quickly became clear that we were going to have too many pies. Last year, we had as many pies as people in the house. Delicious though it was to have such an array, it was a little much. (Okay, it was a lot much. We ate pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all weekend after.) We have, I think, picked a more reasonable number of pies– this year there will only be half as many pies as people. In order to get there, we had to compromise. I’m only making one pie, when I had planned on two.
In the email chain for the Thanksgiving Service, the opposite problem occurred: with so many different churches involved, there seemed to be a shortage of clarity over who would arrange for how many pies, with the result that this week we’re buckling down to make sure the pie sign-ups are filled. No one should go without pie at Thanksgiving Worship, after all!
It got me thinking about how we prepare for the joint events of our lives, whether we’re working together with family members, church members, or anybody at all. It’s often so easy to go along assuming it will all come together just as it always has. Grandma will bring this pie, Aunt Sue will pick one up from the bakery, Uncle Carl will bring that pie… You can fill in the gaps for anything you’ve ever planned as a repeat event. What did we do last time? Let’s just do that again.
Now, sometimes the ease of repetition is worth it. Other times, choosing the easy repeat means we lose out on getting to the heart of what is actually needed right now for the people doing or receiving the work right now.
The antidote to the easy way out is asking questions. “Who is going to bring the pie?” Or, when Jesus met a man who had been ill for decades, “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus didn’t assume he knew what the man wanted. He let the man choose, yes or no. And the simple act of asking meant that Jesus gave what was needed to a man who got to say yes to it.
There are a lot of simple questions we can ask to make sure that our actions match the needs we’re trying to meet. “How can I help?” “What do you need?” “Would you like us to do this?” “Is that helpful right now?” “Who is going to bring the pie?”
When we start by asking the questions, we end by doing what needs to be done. Jesus asks a lot of questions. We can, too.