So Many Questions
(Deut.30:10-14; Col.1:15-20; Lk.10:25-37)
Have you ever noticed how often Jesus asks questions? Across the four Gospels, he asks 307 of them.
His first recorded words are a question: ‘Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ (Lk.2:49). And in Matthew, his last words on the Cross are a question, too: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ (Mt.27:46).
Jesus even replies to questions with questions, and rarely gives straight answers. In his book Jesus is the Question, Martin Copenhaver says that of the 183 questions Jesus is asked, he only answers 8 directly. [i] Why?
Some might argue that it’s a cultural trait, because Jesus was Jewish, and some Jewish people seem to like answering questions with questions.
But there may be other reasons. Bill Bausch says that in Biblical times, less than 1% of the population could read and write, so storytelling was widely used to convey thought and wisdom. [ii] As a storyteller, Jesus often uses parables to raise questions and to get his disciples thinking.
This is good teaching technique. Effective teachers often encourage students to find their own answers, instead of spoon-feeding them. After all, wisdom can only be learned, not taught.
But questions can also persuade. Courtroom lawyers, for instance, ask witnesses a series of questions to build an argument, and then use that argument to persuade the jury.
And questions can bring people together, especially when they start exploring topics of interest and listen respectfully to each other. [iii]
We know that as the Son of God, Jesus does have the answers. But he didn’t come to indoctrinate or control us. He came to teach and liberate us. So, he uses questions to challenge our assumptions and to encourage us to think in new ways.
That’s what he does in today’s gospel. A lawyer wants to embarrass Jesus, and asks him a loaded question: ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus knows what he’s up to, and decides to deflect the challenge. But he also wants to help this man learn, so he replies with a question: ‘What is written in the Law?’
The lawyer says, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’
That’s right, Jesus says. ‘Do this, and life is yours,’ he adds.
This lawyer realises that he’s failed to embarrass Jesus, so he tries to justify himself by asking another question. ‘And who is my neighbour?’ he asks.
Jesus wants this man to understand that his head and his heart are not aligned. So, he tells him the story of The Good Samaritan: A traveller is badly beaten up. Two Jewish religious leaders come upon him, but refuse to help because they don’t want to break their strict rules about ritual purity. Then a Samaritan comes along, and rescues the poor victim.
Now, this lawyer has long believed that Jewish leaders can do no wrong, and that Samaritans can do nothing right. Rabbinic law also insists that only Israelites can be considered as neighbours.
But Jesus knows this thinking is wrong, so he asks the lawyer: which of these three was a neighbour to the wounded man? The lawyer replies, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
It must have pained him to say this. The Jewish people hated the Samaritans, and here he is admitting that the Jewish leaders were selfish and the Samaritan was a hero.
By asking these questions, Jesus has helped this man to think in new ways. It’s the start of new life.
In his play, The Rock (1934), T.S. Eliot writes:
O my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger,
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions. [iv]
Jesus is the one who asks questions, but he’s not really a stranger. He knows each of us intimately (Lk.12:7). If you take the time to listen carefully, you might notice that Jesus is always asking questions, like: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mk.8:29); ‘What do you think?’ (Mt.18:12); and ‘What are you looking for?’ (Jn.1:38).
Jesus doesn’t always give us the answers, at least not right away, because wisdom can only be learned, not taught. But the answers are there to be found.
So, why does Jesus prefer questions? It’s because answers tend to close things down.
Questions, however, open things up. They can lead to new life.
question is Jesus asking you now?
[i] Martin B Copenhaver, Jesus is the Question. United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, 2014, eBook.
[ii] William J Bausch, From No to Yes. Clear Faith Publishing, San Marco, FL. 2018:163.
[iii] Alison Brooks & Leslie John, The Surprising Power of Questions. May-June 2018, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-surprising-power-of-questions
[iv] TS Eliot, The Rock. Harcourt, Brace & Co, NY, 1934:31. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.3608/page/n15/mode/2up