There an old Polish proverb millennials often use today: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Wiktionary says it this way: It’s not my business; indicates that one is staying out of a volatile or delicate situation.
My daughter used this phrase recently and it captured me. In one week, I think I said it 873 times; which is normal for me when I find something I like.
What grabbed me is that while Jesus likely wasn’t Polish, he lived the proverb. So many times, someone would come up with a “major religious question,” seeking to draw him into a debate about an issue that didn’t matter.
In his own way, Jesus would respond, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” I love it. I think I’ll write it again. “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” That was cathartic.
The Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4 is a perfect example. Jesus stunned her by telling her things about herself he could not have known without God’s hand on him, such as “For you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband.” Yikes.
I appreciate this woman’s honesty because even though she was likely about to faint in shock, she says, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”
Let’s pause for a moment and say collectively, “No kidding!”
She goes on however, with the big question: “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain and you people (Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
Jesus response? In today’s language, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” He cuts through the religious debate of the day, saying, “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the father.”
But Jesus isn’t done. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the father in spirit and in truth.”
In short, it doesn’t matter where we worship; it matters who and how we worship.
In too many areas of my faith, I’ve focused on the peripherals. I might latch on to this idea or that one, thinking it is extremely important to helping someone grow in faith. But the more I read about Jesus, the more I find he didn’t pay much–or any–attention to whatever seemed so important to me.
The Samaritan Woman probably thought the “Mountain Question” was important. She had likely heard the religious leaders in her town talk about it, perhaps raising their voices as they attempted to make various points.
But when a man showed up who proved to be an incredible prophet and she approached him with the question, it wasn’t a biggie, at least to him.
Funny thing is, once he answered this question she knew–even more clearly–“this guy is different.” You can almost sense her hopes beginning to rise and when she says, “I know that messiah is coming (that is, the Christ); when that one comes, he will declare all things to us.”
Then, back to Jesus: “I who speak to you am he.” Mic drop.
This is the first time Jesus tells anyone–point blank–he’s the messiah. The fascinating point here is that the power moment in this conversation comes after Jesus dismisses the “religious” question about some mountain.
If I’m going to chase faith in a new way, I’ve got to recognize those moments when I’m caught up in religious questions instead of true faith questions. There’s a difference, and if I can discern when I’m drawing myself into the “who cares” stuff, I’m able to cut through the noise and find the big stuff.
On some seemingly “vital” questions, I’ve got to be willing to say in all sincerity and kindness, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” If I do, I might find myself closer to the core of what truly matters to Jesus and to the Father he talks about so much.