You have heard it said that there are ‘no stupid questions, only stupid answers.’ But Verily, I say unto you—there are plenty of stupid questions.
And people in the Bible ask them alllll the time.
In fact, the gospel writers use those dumb-question-having people in order to frame an important teaching or activity of Jesus. So in fact…perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge those who do the asking. It could be they are totally on-script: a staged interview to show who Jesus is. A plant in the audience to set the stage for a miracle…
Here’s the thing though: while Jesus doesn’t dignify the wrong-headed question with a direct response, he does manage to engage the one who asks it, in a way that both transforms the hearer and reveals a truth about God—with transformative implications for the world at large. How does he do that???
Perhaps it isn’t the art of metaphor and narrative that Jesus handles so eloquently; but rather his depth of understanding of the human spirit that lets him see right to the heart of a question—and a questioner—and say something so powerful. Think about the range of people who ask questions of Jesus—or, ‘question’ him in passive-aggressive ways, even if it does not come forth as in interrogative statement.
“Who sinned…this man or his parents?”
“What must I do to be saved?”
“Why do you speak in parable?”
“Do you not care if we perish?”
“In the resurrection…whose wife will the woman be?”
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Can you not tell her to help me?”
“Teacher, the law of woman says we must stone this woman…now what do you say?”
“See, he has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner…”
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Well…Come to think of it, maybe these are not so much dumb questions as they are deeply human questions. Spiritually flawed questions. And…not the sort of thing you want to ask of Jesus. Because in every one of these cases, the questioner already has in mind the response they want to hear. And in every scenario Jesus’ response boils down to–“You are asking the wrong question.”
Nobody who is sure they have the right answer wants to hear that they started with the wrong question. Dang! You mean I have to start all over? I had this all figured…
And yet…if scripture teaches us anything it’s that a conversation with Jesus usually sends us right back home to start over. Whether he answers in parable, in metaphor, by quoting the prophets, or by responding with a question of his own, (answering a question with a question! maddening!) a Jesus answer almost always redirects the nature of the inquiry.
Whether he’s addressing priests and scribes, disciples, sinners, or the common hoard, we can learn a great deal about ourselves from Jesus’ varied responses. He works to turn our doubts, our fears, our prejudices and resentments, and our own certainty of ‘right’ on its ear, in a way that frees up some room for new life within us. So here (in paraphrased nutshells, of course) are some classic Jesus answers to our timeless human questions:
You are asking the wrong question; you are looking at this situation selfishly, and not considering how God might be at work in the lives of others.
You are asking the wrong question: you are too focused on the letter of the law, and not the person in front of you. And/or, you are too focused on what the law means, and not what it says about God.
Don’t be so literal. (My personal favorite “Jesus channels Tim Gunn” response).
You are asking the wrong question: you are too focused on the splinter in your neighbor’s eye to notice the epic redwood in your home. Go home, try some eye drops, and try again.
Because I said so. And I can walk on water.
Don’t be a jerk.
You are asking the wrong question: you are too caught up in the baggage of the past to see what God has promised for your future; (AND/OR) you are too worried about future things, and you are missing the life all around you.
IT’S. A. METAPHOR.
Think what you want, but these (sinners, children, poor people, women, lepers, uncomfortably-close demon possessed crazies) will inherit the kingdom of heaven. So ima go sit with them.
Did I mention you are asking the wrong question?
God loves you anyway. Deal with it.
Did I miss any? Of course I did, cause Jesus has a million of ‘em. And they just keep coming. This is the beauty of scripture; that we change, the world evolves, culture shifts, and our flawed, broken questions take on the nuances of time and context. But the gospel answers are still there for us.
Wait…did I just say the Bible has answers?? OK, I’ll own it. Just be it known that I didn’t say easy answers. Or expected answers. Or validate-your-backward-prejudice answers… That’s the thing about a talk with Jesus. He tells us what we need to hear; even if that means sending us back to rethink the nature of the question. He meets us, hears us, and sends us home again. But somehow, not quite as we were.