After hearing John the Baptist declare two days in a row that Jesus is the Lamb of God, in John 1, verse 37 we read that John’s disciples stop following John, and they start following Jesus. Jesus hasn’t uttered a word. And because of that, the scene strikes me as humorous.
The two disciples just follow Jesus. No asking permission. No invitation. No conversation. How would you feel if you’re walking in the city or in the mall, some crowded space, and people just start following you? Creeped out, right? How often are we driving, and behind us a person makes the same turn as us, and we notice it. Then then we make another turn, and they make the same turn. How many of the same turns does it take for you to start wondering, “Are they following me? Do I need to be concerned?” And then finally you make a turn they don’t make, and you feel relieved. When people just randomly follow us, we feel awkward and uncomfortable, and we don’t like it.
Perhaps that’s exactly what Jesus felt. Look at how he responds. In verse 38 we read that he sees them following, turns around and says, “What do you want?” I really wish we could see his face, his body language and the tone of his voice. Was he calm? Was he a little freaked out why these two men had started following him? Did he start to have that awkward or nervous feeling like we can have? He was human after all. Or was he totally calm and maybe with a twinkle in his eye, asking them a question to get them thinking.
Jesus was a questioner. People have counted them, in fact. Jesus asks 307 questions in the Gospels, and his practice can be very instructive for us. Too often, we are declarers, sharing our opinions and making bold proclamations. But what we see from Jesus is a consistent practice of question-asking.
The first words out of his mouth in the Gospel of John are a question. That is not the case with Matthew and Mark, but it is also true in Luke’s account, in the story when his parents, Mary and Joseph, thought Jesus was lost in Jerusalem. In a ball of nerves and fear, they rushed around searching for him, until finally they found in the temple having biblical and theological discussions with the religious leaders. His mother, Mary, is hurt and shocked, probably also angry, and she asks him, “Why would you treat us like this? Your father and I have anxiously been searching for you.” A mother’s question and statement that we parents can resonate with. Jesus, at 12 years old, looks at them and asks a question…well, actually two questions: “Why were you searching for me?…Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
That is one of the most pre-teen questions ever. “Mom, why are you freaking out? I’m fine!”
Well, Jesus’ practice of questioning seems to have matured out of his teen years into an amazingly creative spiritual practice. Think about that, the spiritual practice of questioning. When we question, we show that we don’t have it all figured out, that we don’t view ourselves as dispensers of knowledge that everyone should bow and listen to. Instead we humbly put ourselves in the posture of a learner, a listener who wants to know more about the people around them. Asking questions builds relationships. It is a practice that highlights the other. It also shows us the genius of Jesus, because for most people interaction is a far better way to learn, than just listening to a lecture. Questions create interaction.
In my opinion, there’s not much worse than the know-it-all, the talker who barely lets you get a word in edge-wise. Interestingly enough, if there was any human person who might lay claim to being a bona fide know-it-all, it is Jesus. But he did not behave that way.
In Philippians 2, Paul writes that Jesus emptied himself of his divine right, privilege and power (at least to some degree) when he took on human flesh. How much of the divine did Jesus give up to become human? Scholars debate that. We don’t know for sure. But there are certainly times in the Gospel accounts where Jesus admits his limitations. For example, when he is talking with his disciples about when he will return, they ask him point blank, “When will you return?” Isn’t that the big question we all want to know, and that all Christians for 2000 years have wanted to know?
Jesus answers, “Only the Father knows that, not even the Son. It is not for you to know, so be ready for my return at all times.” Jesus didn’t know. So we can make the case that his practice of asking questions was right in line with the limitations he imposed on himself when he became human. In other words, Jesus sometimes asked questions because he didn’t know the answer, and his question was his attempt to learn the answer. He took a serious, loving, caring interest in people, and the way to show it was to ask questions.
Are you a question-asker? If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ve heard me talk about my Old Testament professor in seminary, Dave Dorsey. Dorsey once said that when we are in a conversation, as much as possible, we should listen and ask questions 60% of the time, and talk 40%. You might wonder, “Wait…talk 40%? Didn’t you just say that Jesus was a questioner? Shouldn’t we listen or ask questions a whole lot more than 60%?”
Dorsey made the wonderful point that a real relationship includes both give and take. Both parties talk, and both parties listen. If we, in our attempt to be humble and teachable, are just listening and asking questions all the time, or even most of the time, then we are enabling the other person to be a talker and a know-it-all. So we should absolutely invest ourselves into the conversation as well. But in order to follow Jesus’ example of the spiritual practice of questioning, we would do well to emphasize questioning and listening, so go for that at a rate of 60%, Dorsey suggested. Please don’t pull out your phone and start using the stopwatch and time your conversations. But instead pay attention to yourself. Keep a running tally in your mind: Am I talking too much? Have I made any attempt to learn about the other person?
Discipleship begins and continues with the spiritual practice of questioning.