Sure, You Know, Yourself
‘Sure, you know yourself,’ my brother, Michael will say in his e-mails to me, whenever he tells me something. It is a comical homage to that old, wise, Irish way of engaging with another in friendly conversation. Rather than dictate life to anyone an Irish person might lay out a scenario and then add this inclusive, all-embracing comment that you already know and understand what is being spoken of. Sure, you know, yourself. It is an act of inclusion, an act of common life.
The writer, Ian Jack, wandering down a country road in County Cork, and getting lost, meets an Irish farmer who greets him with the words, ‘You’ll have taken the wrong road?’ Not an accusation or criticism, but that gentle and understanding comment that seems to say, ‘we all get lost from time to time, no harm.’
Other travellers in Ireland long ago also came upon a farmer in his field, and they were feeling anxious and concerned for themselves. ‘We’re lost,’ they said plaintively to the man in the field. ‘Ah, you’re not lost,’ he replied to them. ‘Sure, you’re only looking for somewhere.’
Such gentle and reassuring comments tell us that we are okay, we are among friends and all will be well. The farmer in Cork was an expert in engaging another in his world. Not only did he meet Ian Jack and share with him the truth of the lost road, but in putting him back on the right road he also interjected a stream of gently inquiring questions about who they were and where they were from and did they have people back this way.
A more prim and proper society might have regarded this as interfering nosiness but in country life people know that they depend on one another and that their lives flow into each other’s, and so such interrogations are no more than any of us would do in order to connect well with our neighbours. We need to talk to one another and we need to learn how to do so.
When Jesus started talking to people, and especially when talking to crowds of people, he told stories. Why? The disciples were flummoxed by this approach. Why not tell them straight? Why not lay down the law? Why not give out to them? Why not give meaningful lectures? Why not show them how clever you are?
Well, I suppose we all know some of the answers to these questions. Sure, you know, yourself. Nobody likes to be told things. Who are you to be lecturing me? Nobody likes to see other people pontificating. So, if you have something to say, how do you go about addressing others properly?
Jesus gets into a boat and sits out from the shoreline and people gather round. Jesus is looking at a cross section of humanity, all kinds of people with all kinds of different ways and attitudes. He could start telling them what they are like directly, but it would sound like accusation, and Jesus is not interested in accusing people of anything.
Instead he tells them a story about a farmer going out to sow seed in his field, and he describes what happens to the various kinds of seed, depending upon where the seed falls and what the ground is like. It is a brilliant story that accurately describes the condition of human life and why things happen to people the way that they do. Sure, you know, yourself.
In private, when his disciples ask why parables are his chosen vehicle of communication, Jesus opens their eyes. Most of the time we look and do not see. We listen and do not hear. We do not understand and we want all life’s problems answered for us on a plate. Parables invite you to think and to question and to reflect. This is good for us, for we all have to live our own lives and not have life dictated to us.
Sure, you know, yourself.
16 July 2017