Print this Page

known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns

Then he [Jesus, AD 33, Galilee] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected.....and be killed. [....] He was teaching his disciples, saying ...”The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him.” [....]. He took the twelve aside again.....saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be handed over...and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over ...they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him...  Mark 8: 31, 9: 31, 10: 32-34


Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote has become part of our 21st century understanding of life. Here it is in full for the record: “Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.”


The “known known” for Jesus of Nazareth at this very time of year – with Passover approaching in Jerusalem (as it is next week – like Easter here) – was that awful things were ahead for him (see bold above): great suffering, rejection, betrayal, condemnation, mockery, spitting, flogging and death.


You don’t know what next week has in store for you, do you? Jesus knew.


If you did, and it was death, to whom would you turn for escape? To someone in Jersey? Or in London? Or to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg? 


What did Jesus do? “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and ... afraid.”


This unusual man was committed to his known knowns, awful and terrifying as they were.


The followers of Jesus, back there in AD 33, had “known unknowns” to deal with – just as Jersey-folk have known unknowns in the lead up to this Easter 2009.


Now this is where it gets very interesting. Mark’s biography of Jesus, written around AD 65, records the known unknowns that were troubling Jesus’ disciples. The disciples put them forward immediately after each of the three statements of Jesus.


First off the mark with his fears is Peter. He hates Jesus’ statement about being killed and takes Jesus aside to rebuke him. Peter’s known unknown is death – “Death is my great problem – it’s not yet is it?”


Second on stream after Jesus’ second statement are all the disciples as a group. They begin a furious argument (about which they are ashamed when Jesus questions them). The argument is about greatness. Who of us is greatest in what we have? What will I get when we become go up in the world? And other non-disciples join in ...... Can I divorce my wife easily and have a new one? Can I buy eternal life? Or work my way in? Yes, the second known unknown is – “Well-being is my long-term objective, will I succeed?”


And the third? After Jesus’ third statement about his impending criminalisation two of his disciples pluck up courage to pray to Jesus about it. James and his brother John (whose family fishing business – with employees – was based on Lake Galilee) are used to having authority, to being above the bottom of the heap. They ask for key places at Jesus’ right and left when he comes into power. Yes, the third AD 33 known unknown is – “How will my place in the hierarchy rise – or fall?”


Jesus wanted to teach his key followers something entirely different – he wanted them to know about their “unknown unknowns”. (Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t know that his risk structure dates back to AD 33.)


The unknown unknowns that Jesus was so concerned for his disciples to understand? They are so important that it may truthfully be said that Jesus was dying for them to understand and know them.......

‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, except a corn of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (Jesus Christ, Jerusalem, AD 33)
‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.’ (Corrie ten Boom, Dutch Holocaust survivor, 1892-1983)
Richard Syvret

Email this newsletter to a friend
*All mandatory fields must be filled in

Friend`s name
Friend`s email address *
Your name
Your email address *

Send comment
*All mandatory fields must be filled in

Your name *
Your email address *
Your comment *