Curiosity is underrated.
In the past one hundred years, many North Americans have undergone a shift in how they’re described and in how they see themselves. We have gone from citizens to consumers. A few years back the hit drama “Mad Men” followed the lives of people in a booming advertising industry in post-World War II America. Citizens may benefit from being curious; consumers don’t need to be. After all, the product is described for you in a certain way so that you’ll see the benefits of owning it and buy it, the sooner the better.
Sometimes curiosity has been collapsed in with tired portraits of cynicism, weary portrayals of bored skepticism. Everything is spin, nothing is as it seems, the five-in-one mop you just bought will break the second time you use it, and everyone just wants something from you. This is the way of the world. The sooner you learn it, the better.
How curious, then, that our faith presents to us illustrations of a curious God; we affirm that God is all-knowing, after all, yet time and again we see Jesus showing curiosity. To affirm the ancient statements of faith means to affirm that God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, who create, redeem, and sustain – God is omniscient. Yet it also means affirming that Christ, while fully divine, willingly put aside some of those attributes in the Incarnation when the Word Became Flesh. Fleshy God cried, wet his diaper, learned to walk, learned the skills of carpentry, and while sometimes the Spirit-anointed Jesus saw deep into people’s hearts, to read the Gospels for even a short time is to encounter the Jesus who asked questions.
Sometimes these questions were rhetorical; sometimes the questions were for the purpose of teaching or exposing something to a hearer they didn’t realize about themselves before. Sometimes – they were just questions.
Jesus saw people because he saw beyond himself, his fatigue or hunger or wishes.
Jesus was curious.
It was strange to find Jesus at age 12 in the temple teaching learned men at a stage when modern Jewish boys read from the Torah for the first time at their Bar Mitzvah. He had insight, for sure. He was different.
But if we always see his questions arising from wry divine foreknowledge, we perhaps miss the poignant cost of human interaction, and after all, we say, Christ was fully divine, fully human.
What if, when he said, “who do they say that I am?” and then, “and who do you say that I am?” he was simply asking, “tell me, how do you see me?”
What if there was urgency when he would look at someone, perceive the complex turmoil they found themselves in, and ask, “do you want to be made well?” After all, sometimes we grow comfortable with our infirmity to the point that we allow it to define us. Addicts affirm time and again that they got sober when they were ready – but not before. And so Mary’s son stood before someone and asked point-blank – “are you ready for a new life? A life of health, a life that stretches out in front of you that isn’t defined yet? Are you ready to let go of grief?”
Jesus found himself in a shoving crowd with people pressing in and quite suddenly felt power go out of him (a book in itself). He turned around (frowning?) and said, essentially, “hang on – wait a minute. Who just touched me?” And his friends replied, “um, there is a huge crowd, probably any number of people,” but Jesus knew it was different and waited until a shocked, embarrassed woman came forward and explained that her personal chronic illness had just disappeared instantaneously.
A lot of divine redemption is read into a famous exchange between Jesus and Peter, and understandably so, especially given some shifts in Greek vocabulary. But what if we peel away our hindsight-is-20-20 lenses and look at this exchange at one of its more basic layers – one friend deeply hurt by another?
“Simon – do you love me?”
“Simon – do you love me?”
“Simon – do you [even] love me [at all]? [I saw you that night, in the courtyard, and it broke my heart in ways a whiplash or nails or a spear never could, we’ve spent three years together and you pretended you’d never met me.]”
Jesus was curious. He went to weddings, he told Zaccheus he was coming over for dinner, he ate with white collar criminals (tax collectors), he sat and talked to a woman getting water from a well in the hottest part of the day, he let himself stay up late talking to a curious religious leader who came to him in the middle of the night, he decided to send the disciples out in pairs and see how it went, he paid attention to widows and sparred with temple elites, he marveled at the faith of a pagan soldier.
And if we want to be like Jesus – if we want to be Christ-like – then we have no place in echo-chambers, cloistered off from anyone. There is no one with whom we can decide not to engage, no matter how furious their bumper sticker makes us. Because Jesus ignored the bumper sticker and saw the person. Jesus ignored the brand and saw the soul. Jesus was curious about everyone. There was no one – no one – who did not merit his time. It was Pilate who famously washed his hands of a person, not Jesus. Jesus didn’t wash his hands of anybody.
Sometimes people of faith think of faith-sharing as abusive pushiness or as a clergy specialty. But to love people is to be curious about them: to want to know more about them. Sometimes one of the most Christ-like things you can do is notice the people around you. When’s the last time you really saw somebody? When’s the last time you picked up on a casual comment and followed up on it? When’s the last time you took interest in a person no matter what bumper sticker was on their car or what social media status they last posted?
Curiosity about others, curiosity about their lives, opens us up to opportunities to acknowledge and reflect their value: they are worth noticing. In a distracted world, this is explosively powerful. If you want to revolutionize your year and quickly find areas you need to grow in, put down your phone more frequently, make eye contact more frequently, stop yourself from making snap judgments and dismissing people, and show curiosity.
And make Jesus Christ, Word Made Flesh, smile.