Questions from Jesus

17 Oct 2021 by Rev Dr John Squires in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Questions from Jesus

From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing

“What do you want me to do for you?” That’s the question that Jesus asked James and John, the sons of Zebedee, when they to him and said, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." (10:35). “What is it you want me to do for you?", he asks them (10:36). The interaction is part of the Gospel reading offered by the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday. 

It’s the same question that Jesus puts to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar beside the road into Jericho (10:51). We will encounter that reading the following Sunday. The account relates that the blind man, throwing off his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" “My teacher, let me see again”, was the reply (10:50–51).

Perhaps it’s not the usual question that we associate with Jesus. But it is worth pondering: how would you respond, if Jesus confronted you directly with that question?

Perhaps we are tempted to think of Jesus as the one who is always TALKING to us, rather than LISTENING to us. Indeed, Jesus does talk a lot. He preaches to his followers. He tells stories in parable form. He debates and disputes with scribes and Pharisees. He commands evil spirits and demons to leave possessed people. He talks a lot!!

Yet in Mark’s Gospel—the Gospel that we are following this year in the lectionary—Jesus asks lots of questions. In Mark’s Gospel as a whole, there are (according to the NRSV) no less than 118 questions. Since there are 668 verses in total in Mark’s Gospel, this means that the reader (or hearer) of this Gospel is confronted with a question, on average, every 5.66 verses! (Why not try reading a couple of chapters through, looking out especially for the questions?)

Some of these questions are simple conversational enquiries that people make of Jesus (see 10:17; 12:28; 13:4). Some questions are designed to lead the disciples, or the crowd, into further discussion and debate (see, for instance, 3:33; 4:30; 10:3; 10:51). Some questions are designed to create controversy or to challenge the authority of Jesus (look at the provocations of 2:7, 16, 18; 11:28; 12:14).

Indeed, Jesus poses pointed questions of his own for his disciples and the crowds who follow him. Think about the provocations and challenges in these phrases of Jesus: “why are you afraid? have you still no faith?” (4:40); “do you also fail to understand?” (7:18); “do you still not perceive or understand? are your hearts hardened? do you have eyes, and fail to see? do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (8:17–18); “you faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? how much longer must I put up with you?” (9:19). 

There is certainly no “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” in this Gospel! He probes and prods, with his questions. 

Theologically, perhaps the most challenging question in the Gospel is when Jesus quotes the Psalmist: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34). Is this an expression of the deepest despair of a human being who feels alienated, abandoned, utterly alone? In this regard, it sits well with the anguish of Job, that we are currently hearing in the Old Testament passages offered by the lectionary at this time. It may be a question that we ourselves can ask of God. 

So my encouragement to you this week, is to listen to what questions Jesus is asking—questions that he may well be directing to you. What is he asking? How do you respond?