This spring I took a class on Design Thinking. Technically speaking, “Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.”[i] In layman’s terms, design thinking is a non-traditional way of getting to innovative idea. Within design thinking are several methods to help people get out of their traditional ways of thinking. One of my favorites is The Five Whys Method. You start with a problem, and you ask why the problem is happening. Then you look at the first “why?” and ask the question again. Why is that answer happening. And on and on until you get to the root of the issue[ii] – almost like peeling layers off an onion. At first, the Five Whys feel a little silly. But the more you play with the method, the faster you realize the problem you are looking at is not the actual problem. And when you finally hit the right answer, you may be surprised by how uncomfortably honest the answer is.
In our gospel lesson today, the disciples clearly have never heard of the Five Whys Method. In fact, when Jesus, privately teaching the disciples, tells them he will be betrayed, killed, and will rise again on the third day, the disciples say nothing. The text tells us they do not understand Jesus, and they are “afraid to ask him.” They are afraid to ask why. They are afraid to go beyond that first layer of the onion because they do not even like the layer in front of them. We talked last week about how Peter tried to discourage Jesus from this same fate: because a Messiah is not supposed to suffer and die – a Messiah is supposed to free them from oppressive power.[iii]
We can understand their fear. When taking that class on design thinking I practiced the method using a challenge we were facing at Hickory Neck. To be honest, I do not even remember the actual presenting problem. But what I do remember was getting the answer to the third why. When I answered why to that third question, the answer took my breath away. I was mortified and ashamed: surely that was not the answer to the problem. As I stood stunned at the words that had just come out of my mouth, and after some awkward silence, my partner asked me again, “Okay. But why?” As I shook off my paralysis and answered the fourth why, I started getting some more honest clarity. By the time I got to the fifth why, I was sold on the method. The method helped me name the thing I could not name just staring at presenting problem.
After the conversation with the disciples, Jesus introduces a child into the teaching with the disciples. Scholars have many theories about the introduction. Thousands of years ago, children were not regarded with honor. As Sharon Ringe explains, “A child did not contribute much if anything to the economic value of a household or community, and a child could not do anything to enhance one’s position in the struggles for prestige or influence. One would obtain no benefit from according to a child the hospitality or rituals of honor or respect that one might offer to someone of higher status…”[iv] Most scholars agree Jesus does not introduce children because they are cute and to be loved (even if they are!). But I wonder if Jesus, having known a few children, knew that children are particularly adept at asking, “why?” Any of you who has known a preschooler has known the incessant way they can ask the question, “why?” And as children age, the question does not stop: the question just gets increasingly uncomfortable. I think Jesus knew the disciples were stuck on their own conceptions of the Messiah and their role in the divine narrative, and Jesus wanted them to start probing why that narrative mattered to them. Jesus wanted them to start peeling back the narratives, but saw they were afraid of truth.
That is our invitation today. Our gospel scene is an invitation for us into deeper, more honest, more probing relationship with Jesus. Instead of taking our relationship with Jesus at face value, instead of being afraid of hard questions, instead of being afraid of scary answers, our invitation today is to engage in our faith in the same way we engage in innovative thinking: to keep asking the whys over and over again. The good news is we have a community of seekers who can ask those whys with us and hold us in the uncomfortable answers until we get clarity. The good news is we have tools to help overcome our fear and silence, and kids in our community who will keep us honest. The good news is we have a Savior who is willing to engage with us in a brutally honest, yet radically salvific relationship. Thanks be to God! Amen.
[i] Teo Yu Siang, “Design Thinking,” Interaction Design Foundation, as found at https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/design-thinking on September 18, 2021.
[ii] iSixSigma-Editorial, “Determine the Root Cause: 5 Whys,” as found at https://www.isixsigma.com/tools-templates/cause-effect/determine-root-cause-5-whys/ on September 18, 2021.
[iii] N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 122.
[iv] Sharon H. Ringe, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 97.