Asking the Right Questions By Karolyn Dekker
What’s that old saying? “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Likely, most of us understand the implications of that statement. But I wonder, is it fair to say that some questions are better than others? We could probably agree on that. Truth be told, I think Jesus’ disciples didn’t always ask smart questions. In retrospect, it sometimes feels a bit humorous.
Case in point: Matthew 15:1-20. Nothing about the content of Jesus’ message in this text is actually funny. The topic is quite serious as Jesus makes a strong point, blatantly defying the traditions of the Pharisees in front of a crowd that included the Pharisees! Heavy stuff.
What I find funny is that the disciples felt the need to point out the obvious. To the Son of God. To God, Himself.
Verse 12: “Then the disciples came to (Jesus) and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’”
I’m tempted to add some commentary to Jesus’ response in verse 13: “He replied while rolling His eyes…”
No, I don’t think that Jesus would roll His eyes at someone, but this would be a case when He’d surely be entitled to do so!
The question actually implies ignorance on Jesus’ part in two ways. Number one, it implies that Jesus was not fully aware of what He said – as if to say that He might not have said it if He knew it would offend someone. Secondly, it implies that Jesus was unaware of the Pharisees’ response. Clearly, the disciples missed the lesson on the meaning of omniscience during Hebrew school. Or maybe they truly didn’t know who they were talking to.
I also find it a little humorous that God wanted to include the question in the holy text. However, I don’t think He did so to demoralize the disciples. After all, Matthew – the author in this case – was one of them, so he was included in the group’s asking of the questionable question. He likely smiled when later recording the passage, thinking about how his understanding of Jesus had changed since then, finally able to laugh at his own mistakes and misunderstandings. Matthew had the blessing of being in Jesus’ physical presence, yet He and the others still struggled initially to understand what it meant that God Himself was with them.
Maybe the real reason I smile at this passage is because I can see bits of myself in it. Admittedly, it’s kind of comforting that I can feel connected to the disciples in this regard. How many times have I felt the same things – “God, don’t you know what’s going on? Can’t you see the pain that’s resulting?” Maybe I sometimes devolve a bit and challenge, “God, don’t you care?”
The more I think about it, I find the disciples’ question very reassuring. Not so much the question itself (because it revealed a lack of faith and understanding in who Jesus was), but rather the fact that God chose to include it in Scripture, so that we can see that we’re not alone in our occasional floundering. Jesus could’ve righteously rolled His eyes or rebuked them in that moment (as He did a few minutes later for something else), but He let that one slide. God doesn’t exist in order to receive reassurance from our ongoing, consistent acknowledgement of His deity. He knows who He is and doesn’t need any back patting from us. No, it is we who need to understand who He is for our sake, not for His. He was Lord of the universe long before the universe came along!
Maybe God knew that we would be quick to find fault with the disciples’ ignorance, but if we would linger a bit, we would start to see ourselves in their question.
In thinking more about the context in which the disciples met Jesus, their hearts were set on a coming Messiah who would somehow deliver them from the Romans’ rule. Yet, in discovering that Jesus was the Messiah and throwing away their past lives to follow Him, they hear messages of suffering, persecution, and ultimately their Messiah’s death. That wasn’t the picture they envisioned in the beginning. At that time, nothing made sense. Jesus miraculously healed the sick, calmed violent storms, and even raised people from the dead! Surely, He was hinting of His supernatural ability to overthrow the enemy.
Yes, He was, but not the enemy they were envisioning.
That makes sense to me why it wouldn’t make sense! Yet, we now know how the story ends, so we aren’t stressed about Jesus’ death. We actually thank God for it. What changed? Only humanity’s perspective. God’s plan was the same from the beginning. It always made sense to Him and nothing took Him by surprise.
So part of the reason for the disciples’ lack of faith and understanding was because they didn’t quite have God’s point of view in the moment. I wonder whether Matthew was secretly wishing he would’ve responded differently to Jesus back in the day. Had Peter caught the vision, he surely wouldn’t have rebuked Jesus at the mention of His upcoming death. How often does our own lack of understanding lead us to higher anxiety and a questioning of God’s goodness?
Maybe it’s time to re-examine our beliefs about God. Do we understand the Messiah to be someone different from what He claimed to be? Do we expect Him to solve all of our problems in our timeframe? Is He our magic genie? Do we think it’s about our physical comfort? Our emotional state of being? Do we think it’s only about us?
Maybe it’s time to ask God to point out where we’ve misunderstood His plan. Letting Him write the blueprint depends a lot on whether or not we truly trust Him. Do we believe that He is who He says He is? Do we know who He is? Clearly, the disciples never would’ve asked if Jesus knew something if they fully understood who Jesus was. Thankfully, Jesus gave them a lot of grace.
He offers the same grace to us, too. He doesn’t shame us for missing the mark. Hopefully, we’re encouraged to get to know God more and ask better questions like, “God, what is your plan in this mess? How do you want me to respond under these circumstances? What should I be learning in all of this?” These are much more productive questions than, “God, don’t you know…?”
Of course, He knows. He knows so much more than what we can even imagine. Moreover, He can be trusted with that knowledge.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:28
Thank you for these insights. I’m so grateful for God’s patience and the fact He gives us perspective and will continue to do so, especially when we seek Him out to reframe our views.
Thank you for keeping us real. The goodness of Jesus, His patience and His all-knowing is such a comfort when I humble myself and remember….