Jesus was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.Mark 9:31-32
Have you heard of a social media phenomenon called “AMA” or “Ask Me Anything”? It started on Reddit, I think, but now it shows up in lots of places. It typically involves someone famous – famous for lots of different reasons, of course – but someone famous who invites the social media community they are on to ask them anything. And they promise honest, candid answers.
So, with that in mind, imagine what it would be like for Jesus to return, and to have an “Ask Me Anything” session. Wouldn’t that be great? Ask Jesus anything. If that were to happen, what questions do you think he would be asked?
I suppose one of the first questions would be, “Is it true? Are you really the Son of God?” A follow-up question might be the one known as the theodicy question: “If you really are the Son of God, and if you really do love us, then why do you still allow so much suffering and evil in our world?” I’d love to hear his answer to that one. Maybe someone would ask him when he plans to return for good, to bring heaven to earth, and to put an end to all the suffering, pain, and death in our world.
No doubt there would be a long list of questions that Jesus would be asked, if we could ask him anything. Perhaps one of these questions would be the one that the disciples were too afraid to ask in today’s gospel reading: “Why did you have to suffer and die before being raised again?”
Today’s Gospel Reading
In this gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37), Jesus is teaching his disciples the same thing that we heard him teaching them last week, that “the Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But “they did not understand what he was saying,” this reading tells us, but “were afraid to ask him.” I guess they didn’t have a teacher tell them that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Or, even better, that the only stupid question is the one not asked.
The disciples did not ask Jesus a very important question, because they were too afraid to ask him. What were they afraid of? Maybe they were afraid of the answer. Maybe they really didn’t want to know why. Maybe they were afraid of what it might mean for them. Or maybe they felt like they should know the answer. They have been in his presence, listening to his teaching, for months by now, if not years. Surely they should know why the Son of Man must be betrayed and killed, before rising again! Or maybe they were afraid that asking the question would somehow disturb or disappoint Jesus. If he really believed that he must do this, then asking him why might just be like pouring salt on the wound.
But for whatever reason, the disciples don’t ask Jesus the question that is on their minds, because they are afraid to ask it. It’s the right question, if you ask me, and they should have asked it. But they were afraid. And because they’re afraid to ask the right question, they end up getting all tangled up in the wrong question. As we shall see.
And isn’t that often the problem with ignoring the question that we are afraid to ask? We can get all tangled up in the wrong question. We see this often in our world. And we can see it in our own lives, too. For whatever reason, be it fear or something else, we avoid asking the right question, the important question. And because of that, we get all tangled up in asking the wrong question. This happens over and over again in our world. And with significant consequences.
Asking the Wrong Question
In this gospel reading, the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus the right question, so they got all tangled up in the wrong question. In their case, the wrong question became: Who is the greatest among them? Who is the greatest disciple? Obviously the wrong question!
When Jesus and his disciples arrive back in Capernaum, Jesus decides that it is time to help them see how foolish this question and debate is. He turns and asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” They were silent. But Jesus knew, and so he answers that question – whoever wants to be great must serve, and whoever wants to be first must be willing to be last. And then he places a little child among them, a child who doesn’t know as much as them, and has not been following Jesus with them, and in that culture at least, is obviously not great. And he says that whoever wants to become great should start by welcoming this child in his name.
Asking the Right Question
But here is the question that this story leaves me with: What if the disciples were willing to ask the question that is really on their minds? The question of why their hoped-for Messiah must be killed before being raised on the third day? What if they asked that question? Wouldn’t asking that question help them understand what Jesus is up to, and bring them closer to Jesus, and help them understand that they, too, are being asked to take up their cross? That they, too, are being invited to lose their lives for the sake of the gospel? And in doing so, find new life? Wouldn’t having that conversation have made the argument that they are having amongst themselves seem rather silly? It’s hard to argue about who’s the greatest, after all, when you are trying to understand why God’s Son must die on a cross.
Sometimes, asking the right question is just as important, or more so, than finding the right answer.
Real religion does not give final answers; it makes us ask better questions.David Tracy
Questions are so important. Asking the right question can change the world. Many, if not most, important scientific discoveries have been made because someone asked the right question. Asking the right question can also change our lives on a smaller scale. At home. At work. At school. And if it’s important to ask the right question in those settings, how much more important is it to ask the right question of our Creator? And maybe, must maybe, the most important question that we can ask of God, is the very one that we are afraid to ask. And maybe, not asking that question is affecting our relationship with God in lots of unnoticed but important ways.
Jesus’s Question Frees Us to Ask God Anything
One thing that the Bible tells us clearly is that there is no question that we can ask of God that is out of bounds. There is no stupid question, except the one unasked. As a way of illustrating this, remember the question that Jesus asked his Heavenly Father, as he was dying on the cross. It might be the most important question that Jesus ever asked. From the cross, in what must have been the darkest moment of his life, he asked a question that you probably remember very well: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Surely, Jesus wasn’t “supposed” to ask God this. He knew that he had to be killed. He predicted it ahead of time. He predicted it in today’s Gospel Reading, in fact. And he knew that he would be raised on the third day. But here he is, on the cross, asking his Heavenly Father this painfully honest and troubling question, why have you abandoned me?
When Jesus asks this question, he seems to be admitting that he’s no longer sure he’s supposed to be doing this. In a way, it’s similar to the question that the disciples are afraid to ask Jesus. Maybe the main difference between Jesus and the disciples is simply that – that he was willing to ask the question, the crucial question: Why? Why, God, have you abandoned me?
And it seems to me that if Jesus can ask that question of his Heavenly Father, there is no question that is out-of-bounds for us to ask. But there is something critical to remember in Jesus’ question. When Jesus asks that question, he begins it with the words, “My God.” Jesus is asking the question, yes, but he’s not giving up on the relationship with God. That’s what people of faith do. We ask God the tough questions, the questions that trouble us, but we ask them because of our faith, not despite it.
Questions Answered … Eventually
When Jesus asked God this question, I can’t help but wonder if he got an answer. I suspect that the answer did not come until after he breathed his last. And then, of course, he got his answer. God did not abandon His only begotten son. Just as God does not abandon us.
And this, too, teaches us something important about asking God our questions. AGA. Ask God anything. The answer may not come right away. Sometimes, in fact, it may not come in our lifetime. But we ask our questions, believing that one day they will be answered.
I don’t know if there will be an “Ask Me Anything” room in heaven, but I picture something like that. And I believe that when the kingdom comes in its fullness, all of our questions will be answered. And I look forward to that day. But in the meantime, we are called to live by faith, and that means to live with questions. Ask them. But then wait patiently in faith for an answer.
Go back one last time to the disciples in today’s gospel reading, who were afraid to ask Jesus the question that was on their minds. What if they asked Jesus the right question, the question they wanted to ask: Why must you suffer and die? Instead of arguing about who is the greatest? What a difference that would have made on that walk back to Capernaum! Even if they didn’t get a clear answer to their question!
So, today, I just want to invite us to spend more time asking God the question, or questions, that trouble us. What if, every day during our devotions and prayer-time, we ask God a question, and wait patiently for an answer? I wonder if our “greatness” would begin to matter less to us? Just like I wonder if the disciples would have argued less, about who was the greatest, if they asked Jesus the question that was on their minds.
What about us? Would we find ourselves spending more time serving God and serving others? Would we find ourselves more willing to accept God’s will, even when we didn’t understand it? Would our faith actually be made stronger by our willingness to ask the hard questions? Would we be more like Jesus himself?
When it comes right down to it, there’s only one way to find out, right? So, let’s spend some more time this week asking God our questions. AGA. Ask God anything. Through our honest questions, let us draw near to God. Trusting that when we do, God will draw near to us. And believing that one day, all our questions will be answered. Thanks be to God. Amen.