You may have heard the phrase, “Don’t like our weather? Give it 30 minutes and it will change.” I’ve heard that said about many locales. There is a lot of truth in it because the weather is always changing and not always for the better. The weather becomes a safe and familiar topic of conversation. We tend to grumble about the weather in our conversations. It’s too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry, or maybe it’s too cloudy but seldom is it too sunny.
Not many arguments break out about the weather because we all experience it and there is very little we can do about it. I mean, if it is 95 degrees and humid, only a wise guy would respond to the question, “Is it hot enough for you?” with, “No!” Our response would be to laugh at that comment rather than argue about it.
If we talk about politics or religion, it becomes a completely different matter. For some reason, these two topics lend themselves to absolutes. We draw a line in the sand and almost dare the other person to cross over it so we can slap them down with our superior understanding of the issues. If someone says something that offends us, we immediately begin to plot a trap for them so we can correct their faulty understanding. If all else, fails we might even resort to ad hominem or personal attacks.
For whatever reason, there are topics which we feel a need to respond to. Whether it is the latest stupid thing the governor or president has said or complaints about the city council, county commissioners or school board, we have an opinion and we don’t mind sharing it. The problem is we are so quick to spout our views we fail to listen to others. I’ve seen this phenomenon at work with married couples. It even affects me, “What do you mean it's cold in here? If we turn up the heat ..." Unfortunately, that kind of answer usually ends up with an icy glare, and it takes more than the furnace to warm things up.
Jesus was frequently confronted with this type of situation. I particularly like the story in Luke where Jesus is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Rather than immediately start making a point, Jesus invites the questioner to give an answer and encourages the questioners answer of “Love God and love neighbor." Then a second question is raised, “Who is my neighbor?” Again, Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer. Rather, he tells a story.
It is one many of us are familiar with, The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37). Even after telling the story, he doesn’t give a direct answer. He ends by asking the questioner another question, “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
This asking the questioner to answer a question is a common response Jesus uses when confronted or questioned. By continually asking the questioner to answer the question, Jesus is inviting the other person to think about their response. These conversations invite us to think about our attitudes and responses as well.
It may not be necessary when we talk about the weather, but given the political atmosphere and the divisive attitudes prevalent in our culture, we might be wise to listen to the advice of the author of Proverbs in Proverbs 15: 1–2:
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
Galen Smith is pastor at Worthington's Westminster Presbyterian Church.