When you don’t know that you don’t know

Some things you just know. You may know that you know — as when you’re an expert in things that you’ve made an effort to learn. Or you may not know that you know — as when you discover that you’ve learned something by osmosis, without conscious effort.

Some things you don’t know. That’s a fact of life: nobody can know everything. And ignorance is not necessarily a problem, as long as you’re aware of it.

What’s dangerous is when you think you know something, and you really don’t. You don’t know that you don’t know.

And if you’re like most people, you won’t take kindly to having someone point that out.

Such was the situation in John 7:

Some people from Jerusalem said, “Isn’t he the one they want to kill? Here he is, speaking in public, yet they aren’t saying anything to him. Could it be that our leaders actually think he is the Christ? We know where he is from, but when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” 

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he exclaimed, “You know me and where I am from. I haven’t come on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” So they wanted to seize Jesus, but they couldn’t because his time hadn’t yet come.  (John 7:25-30, CEB)

In the previous verses, Jesus was probably addressing the pilgrims who had come from outside the city. They didn’t know that there were people looking to kill Jesus. But here, Jesus is speaking to Jerusalemites — and they’re aware of the conspiracy.

They’re of two minds about Jesus. On the one hand, they wonder if it could actually be possible that he is the Messiah. After all, they reason, the leaders want to kill him, and here he is, a public spectacle, and they haven’t said or done a thing. On the other hand, they think that’s impossible, because they know (as some Jews of that day apparently believed) that the real Messiah’s origins are supposed to be a mystery. This guy’s from Galilee, they assured themselves. Nazareth, even. Case closed.

Isn’t it marvelous how we can use the gift of intelligence to tie ourselves in knots?

Jesus responds by exclaiming loudly, You think you know me! You think you know where I’m from! But you don’t know as much as you think. I came from God; he sent me. And you know why you don’t know that? Because you don’t know him!

John tells us that they wanted to seize Jesus on the spot. No surprise there.

But they couldn’t do it. Not because Jesus magically disappeared in a puff of smoke. Not because Jesus took them down with a dazzling display of martial arts (though that might make for an interesting movie).

It was because it wasn’t his time. It wasn’t on God’s schedule.

That’s one more thing they didn’t know. They didn’t know that they weren’t in charge.