#2 Deep Thoughts at 40,000 Feet

There is no such thing as a “casual trip” to India, let me tell you – and if there were, the Indian visa process will beat it out of you. After booking my airfare, I went to get a new visa photo taken – no glasses, no bangs, no smiles, per the instructions. I stared solemnly ahead, trying not to look like an angry terrorist in the photo.

Packing was a tad bit tricky, as the Indian climate can range from unbearable heat to monsoon to chilly all in one place, depending on the altitude and region.

I packed sleeveless shirts and shorts, then immediately unpacked them, remembering that showing ones arms or legs is not considered modest. The only poncho I had was neon yellow, which could be functional in a monsoon, but didn’t exactly say “American flying under the radar.” I packed an entire digestive suite of Pepto Bismol, Imodium and Tums – you name it. And instant coffee for the jet lag, in case I landed in the land of tea, with only hand signals to express my need for caffeine. Being advised to bring wet wipes, but without specifics on why, I threw in a roll or two of toilet paper (never a bad idea), at the very least being fully prepared to roll something if Auburn beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl while I was gone.

Preparations complete, I turned my attention to my wandering thoughts, with the familiar but vague feeling that I was probably about to get more than I bargained for. While the gospel is always on my mind, it’s hard to focus on spiritual questions sometimes in the middle of the monotony of traffic lights, utility bills and burnt bagels. (Especially burnt bagels.) But I’ve learned to trust that quiet unrest – the gentle voice that nudges you to a thought on the edge of your mind. It’s a voice that often gets drowned out by the ordinary demands of life. I’ve learned to step out of my routine and quiet my objections when a small voice whispers…”Go!”

As if sometimes studying the rhythm and pattern of another country somehow helps us find our way within our own.

***

There are really only two things to think about at 40,000 feet: the quality of the in-flight movies, and why your blanket smells like it’s been chain-smoking in the lavatory.

I departed from the Nashville airport on a sunny November afternoon, where there is no room for luggage in the overhead bin because someone brought guitars. #nashvilleproblems. We fly to Newark, then to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Then on to Delhi. The flight to India is a 16-hour flight, one of the few in which they ask if you prefer a chicken or “veg” entrée, and is mostly spent with the shades down in the dark.

I suppose you could think about the hum of the plane, how to commandeer your armrest from the man who doesn’t speak English at your right, or the fact that it’s -49 degrees Celsius outside the plane window right now. In the end, the flight attendants somehow disappear (leaving a surprisingly low ratio of attendants to passengers), the plane is quiet, and you’re left in total darkness.

After watching two movies and watching the passenger across the aisle snore, I found myself thinking about the questions of Jesus. I’ve actually been thinking about the questions of Jesus a lot lately. Specifically, what does God want from us?

If Jesus were here, what questions would he ask me?

Don’t look to the gospel for tidy answers. When reading through the gospels, in fact, it seems like Jesus asks more questions than he answers.

I’d argue it’s possible to read through the entire gospels, in fact, reading only the questions of Jesus and still get an accurate grasp, in essence, of what the gospels mean. In case you’re wondering, here are the questions:

Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

Dear woman, why do you concern me? My time has not yet come.

Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say “Get up and walk?”

I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or evil, to save life or destroy it?

Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?”

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and do not do what I say?

To what, then can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?

 Now, which of them will love him more? (The one who had the bigger debt canceled.)

 Do you see this woman? You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

 Where is your faith?

 What is your name?

 Who touched me?

What do the crowds say I am?

But what about you? Who do you say I am?

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion?

 Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

 Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?

 Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, o you of little faith?

Why should [an unfertile fig tree] use up the soil?

What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?

Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?

If one of you has a son or ox that falls into a well, will you not immediately pull him out?

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

Suppose a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

Say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks: where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”

For who is greater, the one who is at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Why are you sleeping?

Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?

Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?

My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?

Woman, why are you crying?

What are you discussing as you walk along? What things?

Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?

Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your mind? (Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself!) 2

***

Over and over, the questions are laced with the gospel’s teachings:

Trust God and do not worry.

Take care of yourself instead of judging your brother.

God has shown you great mercy so you can show great mercy to others, etc.

I can’t help wondering, however, what Jesus would say to Westerners today. I suppose there are several things he could say:

Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?

O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I put up with you?

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.

Maybe. Or maybe not.  After all, Jesus never said the predictable thing.

When I was a child, I always thought Jesus asked an inordinate amount of questions. I’ve always wondered, why did Jesus ask so many questions? If you are a scholar, it would take you a lifetime to sort through these. Why did he talk in riddles? He was supposed to have the all the answers, not ask questions.

And then it hit me – because he wants us to think. He wants us to find the answer on our own, not simply tell us. Instead of saying, “Obey me,” he wanted to say, “Which of these was a faithful servant? A neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers. Which of these will love him more?”

In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, an expert in the scriptures asked Jesus, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

And Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”3

 Love God, love people.

Truth. But that’s awfully broad.

In the dim light of the airplane cabin watching everyone watch 70 televisions at once, I wonder again, what does God ask of us?

As the plane flies into the fog, I feel my heart journey into the deep.

There is no exit at 40,000 feet.

And no exit from this particular question for a child of God.

 

 

*Start at the beginning: read the full journey here.*