Jesus is the Question
Excerpt from Mark 12:13-17
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” . . . “Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver
Jesus asks 307 different questions in the gospels. (No, I didn’t count them myself, but someone did.) By contrast, Jesus only directly answers three of the 183 questions he is asked in the gospels. Instead of answering a lot of questions, Jesus responds in other ways.
In some instances Jesus simply keeps silent, as when Pilate questioned him after his arrest.
Or, Jesus responds to a question with another question. When asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus points to a coin and asks, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” (It reminds me of the old Jewish joke, “Why does a Jew always answer a question with a question?” “Why shouldn’t a Jew always answer a question with a question?”)
Or, sometimes Jesus responds to questions indirectly. For example, when Jesus is asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he responds by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Catholic author Richard Rohr writes, “In general, we can see that Jesus’ style is almost exactly the opposite of modern televangelism or even the mainline church approach of ‘Dear Abby’ bits of inspiring advice and workable solutions for daily living. Jesus is too much the Jewish prophet to merely stabilize the status quo with platitudes.”
Jesus is not a giver of advice. He doesn’t give us a neat list of ten ways to be closer to God. He does not provide easy answers. Instead he asks hard questions. In that he is more like the Zen master who asks questions to take us beyond the obvious to something deeper.
Easy answers can give us a sense of finality. By entertaining hard questions God has a chance to change us.
So why does Jesus ask so many questions? Well, why shouldn’t Jesus ask so many questions?
Jesus, what is the question you would ask me today? And help me to respond, not with words, but with the way I live this day.
About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.
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