The Curious Christ
Luke 10: 21-28
His degrees hang framed on the wall behind him, his desk stacked with parchment. A trail of letters follow his name, and the people follow his guidance — for he is bound to know the answer from all his years of study with head buried in bounded pages accruing responses to posed questions. But on this day, the man with all the answers poses a question himself: what must I do to inherit eternal life? Not a small ask, this expert of the law seeks the counsel (or perhaps the humiliation) of a lowly vagabond rumored to know a thing or two. He asks his question, expecting to be told what to do, but instead of receiving an instructional guide, the teacher responds with his own inquiry — posing not just one question, but two: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer answers the question, Jesus confirms his response, the man asks another question, and Jesus responds with a story and yet another question.
In the Gospel accounts, Jesus asks far more questions than he answers — literally. If you list all the questions Jesus asks in one column and all the answers he provides in another, you’ll run out of answers before you run out of questions.
In light of this phenomenon and in response to this scripture, I invite us to consider: why does Jesus ask so many questions?
- God has faith in us and in our capacity to think for ourselves
- We are invited to collaborate, co-create, participate in God’s work in the world
- Emphasis on questioning, debate, wrestling with God in Jewish tradition
- Jesus responds with curiosity not defensiveness
If you’ve ever found yourself on a highway in the south, you are likely well acquainted with this particular phenomenon. As you pass scenic fields and strip malls at 70 plus, your eyes are drawn to the dramatic backgrounds and contrasting colors of Bible Belt billboards bombarding your vision with various messages and pleas. Designed by the Disciple Making Marketing Group, Inc., these vivid, roadside distractions are overlaid with words like “JESUS” or “REPENT” or “BELIEVE” in bold lettering taking up the sign’s entirety. Other billboards of this variety staking claim on real-estate high in the sky have a bit more flair and specificity — quoting Bible verses, making subtle condemning threats, or pitching hope against a cloud covered backdrop. Chances are you have probably encountered this one at some point along your route: “JESUS IS THE ANSWER.” From a marketing standpoint, it’s simple, effective, and by all accounts seems theologically sound for the humble Christian whizzing by in the passing lane, just vague enough to be open to interpretation. Jesus is the answer.
We like answers. We like answers because certainty is comfortable. We like things to be comprehensible and without a shadow of a doubt because it means our seeking can end and the unfamiliar is no longer a threat. We’ve arrived at our destination, our route is complete, and the unknown is in the rear-view. It makes complete sense that we like answers because unanswered questions, vague uncertainty, and crippling doubt can not only be confusing and frustrating but down right terrifying even. Give us clear boundary lines, give us step by step instructions, give us a manual, and by all means give us the answer. Yet, Jesus so often does not or at least not in the way we might expect or want.
Instead, Jesus is quick to answer questions with more questions, with silence or riddles, with symbolism or action — not always clear or simple or easy. In our scripture for today, when the lawyer asks Jesus a question, Jesus asks not one but two right back. In the passage immediately following, Jesus responds to another question with a symbolic story about a Samaritan, concluding this parable with what other than another question. This is not a one-off event but represents a repeated trend for the Trinity’s second figure. It points to how, even when Jesus does respond to a question, more often than not, Christ’s “answer” to inquiry is an invitation into further curiosity.
It makes sense, then, why Jesus praises the faith of children and why he says in Luke 10, “you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” According to research conducted by Harvard child psychologist, Paul Harris, it is estimated that children on average ask around 40,000 questions between the age of 2 and 5. Though that might sound like a shocking figure, I’m sure for many that is a totally believable number on par with tenacious toddlers. Children repeat the mantra “why” and “how” like clockwork, exemplifying an innate curiosity and posture of openness that we are unfortunately all too quick to snuff out of ourselves or have snuffed out of ourselves with the passing years. As childhood and adolescence fades to memory, it becomes easier to allow our sense of surprise and fascination and enthrallment fade with it. Our brains draw more and more conclusions, make more and more associations, and suddenly our sense mystery seems terribly inconvenient and frustrating and the unknown quite frightening.
We demand answers. Life and all our responsibilities demand answers from us. And sure, it’s good to know things. Facts are important and necessary for our survival and thriving. But we cling so diligently to our pursuit of perfect knowledge that the art of questioning becomes secondary, obsolete, a mere stepping stone to the real purpose of drawing conclusions. I mean, what good is a question without an answer to follow it? As a church, we fall into the misguided assumption that to question and doubt implies a lack of faith. That to consider questions without gleaming clear cut answers is dangerous and even sinful — as if, somehow, our uncertainty threatens the certainty of God’s love. In our fear, then, we end up misplacing curiosity for heresy and questioning for blasphemy. We place all the importance on the conclusion we must come to rather than the journey of reaching it, closing ourselves off from curiosity’s invitation into deeper consideration. Whereas an answer is conclusive, a question is invitational, and I wonder if Christ’s preference for the interrogative is meant to be a living embodiment of God’s posture of curiosity towards us, modeling how we are called to a posture of curiosity towards the Divine in return.
Jesus dwells in paradox and swims in mystery, responds to a question then asks two more, which leaves us in a state of perpetual perplexity at times. Maybe that is the point, though. If we find the answer, we stop looking, we stop being curious, we stop participating. We become comfortable and complacent and rigid, closed off to anything other. To reach an answer is inevitably to reach an end, whereas a question is an open invitation — a nudge into deeper communion, a reeling into relationship, a posturing of participation and possibility. In asking questions, Jesus incarnates a Divine who is eternally open to us, whose grace is ever unfolding, and whose love is ever enfolding — calling us closer and closer and closer with God’s own sacred sense of curiosity. In a world that clings to quick fixes and fast food philosophy, Christ asks questions — daring to draw in deeper, to draw us in deeper, in the process, trusting in our capacity to think for ourselves.
On the topic of the mystery of God, the Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, remarks that Divine mystery does not mean that God is unknowable; rather, it means that God is “endlessly knowable.” That the mystery of the Divine is not a wall of separation between us and God but, rather, a path of connection laid eternally before us. Why does Jesus ask so many questions? — maybe it is because a question is an invitation to take another step in faith knowing God has faith in us.
In all we do and experience, may we approach our lives with a Christ-like curiosity, and in so doing, be faithful to the endless knowability of God — faithful to a Christ who is not just the answer but who is the question. What might we ask in return?