When we first moved to Massachusetts, lo those many years ago, one of the first things I noticed was how people greeted each other on the street here.
I was used to saying “Hi,” “Hey,” or “Hello.” People did that here too but more commonly they would say: “Hi, how are you?”
In fact, it was said so quickly (like it was all one word, combined with a Boston accent) that it took me a bit to figure out what was being said.
The greeting was a question. “Hi, how are you?”
I soon discovered, though, that the person saying this didn’t really expect an answer. They didn’t really want to hear that I was having a bad day, just left an argument or was sailing high on some good news. To stop and share my depression or elation would make no sense to them. They didn’t expect either of us to break stride. They were just saying “hi.”
So why ask how I was doing if they weren’t interested? I decided I was overthinking the whole thing and just accepted the custom.
Still, it is a greeting that comes from a good place. It’s the sort of greeting you want to hear if you’re stuck in a snow bank or coming in late to a meeting. It’s reassuring. There’s an underlying invitation to share, even if no one ever takes up the offer.
Did you know that Jesus asks 307 questions in the gospels? Everything from “Who do you say that I am?” to “Do you want to get well?” to “Why do you call me good?”
Jesus asked questions a little differently that we do, though. We ask questions to get information. Jesus asked questions to illicit transformation. He wasn’t so much looking for answers but awareness.
In a sense, Jesus says “Hi, how are you?” but really wants to know.
His questions require a certain self-examination in order to respond. Saying “Good” back isn’t going to cut it. In various ways, Jesus is asking “Who are you?” as much as “How are you?” And he wants you to break stride and really think and feel before answering.
That’s why the church is so valuable. It is that place in your life that invites you to slow down, reflect, and really appreciate who you are and how you are. It is the place that isn’t afraid to call you on your pat answers and say you need to go deeper.
So, “Hi, how are you?”
Do you really know?