Why did Jesus ask so many questions?
Ihad just finished teaching a conference session and was clearing my papers from the podium when a participant approached me. Rick was a highly engaged attendee with a tendency to interrupt speakers with refutations. I was grateful he’d waited until the end this time, but I braced myself for a challenge.
"What do you think the Apostle Paul meant by that phrase in the last verse?" he asked.
I felt a wash of relief. He was touching on an oft-debated passage I’d spent some time studying. This was a question for which I was ready. I listed the best-known interpretations, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each.
When I finished Rick nodded and walked away. I turned to my husband Mark, who had watched the exchange. I faked wiping sweat from my brow. "How’d I do?"
Mark gave me a hug. "You did great, hon. Except you forgot one important thing." My heart sank. Which interpretation had I missed?
"Here’s what he was looking for. He was hoping you’d ask him: What do you think?"
I wanted to dismiss Mark’s observation, but instantly knew he was right. Rick wanted to articulate his own insights much more than he’d needed to hear mine.
Still I wondered, wasn’t it my responsibility to offer my perspective anyway? Mark is a counsellor. Asking the right questions and attending to the answers are the keys to his work. But I was at the conference as a teacher. So shouldn’t I be teaching?
I was slated to present again the next day, and the passage I’d chosen was about the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). That afternoon, going over my notes, I was struck afresh by the story.
Two people are walking the seven-mile road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, speaking in low, heartbroken tones. Three days have passed since the horrific crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. They can’t believe they allowed themselves to place their hopes in Him. And they can’t believe it all came to such a humiliating, tragic end.
Someone else joins them. As readers, we have the delicious insight of knowing this man is the resurrected Jesus. But the travellers have no clue. Jesus joins their conversation. And where I might expect Him to clear His throat and announce His identity, He does something different. He asks not one, but two questions.
"What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "What things?" he asked (Luke 24:17–19).
Reading the passage I knew my husband would smile at Jesus’ patient approach – His insistence on getting the travellers to name their doubts and speak their hearts. And as much as I was tempted to see the exchange as an isolated moment of narrative irony in the Emmaus story, I began to notice a striking pattern in Jesus’ interactions with people throughout the Gospels.
To the would-be disciples trailing behind him, Jesus asks, "What are you looking for?" (John 1:38 NRSV)
To the lawyer seeking a definition of neighbour from the law, Jesus inquires, "How do you read it?" (Luke 10:26)
To the friends grappling to understand whether Jesus might be the Messiah, he says, "Who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:15)
And of the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus asks, "Do you want to get well? (John 5:6)
Jesus seems to be employing more than a rabbinical, rhetorical flourish or a Socratic teaching method. A genuine curiosity marks every interaction. And the interest He takes in other people helps them discover for themselves their deepest longings – and realize those longings lead to Him.
The day I gave Rick all the "correct" answers was the day I began asking some new questions. What would happen if we who follow Jesus started interacting with people more like He did? What might change if we became known more for our listening than our speaking – more for our curiosity than our didacticism?
What do you think?
Carolyn Arends (www.CarolynArends.com) is a recording artist, author and director of education for Renovaré. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/GoWithGod.