Genesis 17:3-9
John 8:51-59


The Irish novelist Joyce Cary wrote even long before the popular Dunning-Kruger Effect, “It is the tragedy of the world that no one knows what he doesn’t know – and the less a man knows, the more sure he is that he knows everything”.

You may have experienced this phenomenon in real life, perhaps around the dinner table at a holiday family gathering. Throughout the meal, a member of your extended family spouts off on a topic at length, boldly proclaiming that they are correct and that everyone else’s opinion is stupid, uninformed, and just plain wrong. While it may be evident that this person has no idea what they are talking about, they prattle on, blithely oblivious to their ignorance. This seems to be especially true in the field of religion.

The world is filling up with fundamentalists, all of them claiming to be certain of something. Their very aggressiveness shows that their ‘certainty’ is a cover for disbelief and confusion; it is a drowning man’s grip. When you are full sure of something, there is no aggression, just a quiet resolve to live by it. Fundamentalists are afraid of doubt, so they claim certainties they have no right to, since they have not travelled the path themselves. Francis Bacon (1561–1626) wrote, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”

In the Gospel today, Jesus bluntly tells his hearers that they do not know God. This is a stinging criticism of people who were “heirs of the prophets, and heirs of the covenant” (Acts 3:25). He wanted to shake them out of their false certainty. Knowledge of God is more subtle than any other kind of knowledge: God is not known in the way we may know anything else.

If you refuse to pretend you know something about yourself or the universe, about life itself, then one sweet day, you will notice something very tender and delicate at the core of your being. It is where all affection and compassion come from and the only knowledge worth having in the end.

Giltus Mathias CP, Parish Priest at St.Brigid, Marrickville