Asking Better Questions

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When I was younger, I was one of those annoying kids who thought they had all of the answers. I knew my memory verses, I liked to sing praises to Jesus, and I loved to pray. I thought that I had it all together and that I was on top of this following Jesus stuff. I eventually grew out of that unfortunate phase and learned that outside of the church no one was asking the questions I knew the answers to. The problem wasn’t necessarily with my answers, but with me thinking that everyone else had to ask the same questions. I had never realized that each life comes with its own unique questions and that over the years those questions change and grow. This was a very humbling discovery for me and it came with a good deal of humiliation. I had made a fool of myself, which is of course what we humans do a great job of. We live in our own heads and have difficulty grasping the fact that different things are going on in other heads. We tend to make assumptions that are based on our experience, and quite often try to shoehorn our experience into others without first listening for what is going on. Today’s passage is a classic example of what it looks like to listen and what it looks like to assume. Two of Jesus’ followers were hot-footing it out of Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, and were talking about the strange reports from the disciples and the women.

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Luke 26:13-32

 

The two followers of Jesus thought they knew what was going on. Things had changed for the worse and they saw no hope for the future. They were sad and grief stricken by their loss, and they were taking themselves out of the situation before it got any worse. They didn’t recognize Jesus when he was right there beside them, because they thought he was dead. It is passages like these that really give me hope for myself. How often do I miss Jesus’ presence because I think I know what is going on and needs to happen? These disciples “knew” it was time for them to skip town, but their perception of the situation was based on some faulty assumptions. Jesus begins by asking them the question “what are you talking about?” Some of us might say that he knew full well, but how someone answers a question will tell you a lot more than just the raw information contained in the words. Jesus did not presume, but heard the men first. In contrast, Cleopas pretty much asked Jesus if he had spent the last week with his eyes and ears closed, assuming that everyone “had” to know of this horrendous tragedy. They made the mistake of thinking that everyone valued the same things and people that they did. The men in our story jumped right to a question that was meaningless to someone who was not a part of their group. We as the church can make similar mistakes. In his book In Search of the Unchurched Alan Klass Responds to the polls that said 70-80% of unchurched people say that faith is an important part of their lives with 40-60% praying to God every day and 30-50% reading their bibles regularly. He says that

Working out of their own understanding of Gospel, Church and mission, churched people say to unchurched people, “Come to the church and be saved.” However, unchurched people are not asking, “What must I do to be saved?” Rather they ask “How can I make my life work?” In effect, people in the church are providing an answer to a question that unchurched people do not ask. Whether or not the churched people are asking an important question is not relevant to the unchurched person’s immediate concern.)[1]

 

Just like Cleopas and the other follower, we need to follow Jesus’ example and listen first, asking questions that meet people where they are. Jesus asked, and we would do well to follow, “What are you discussing?” Jesus didn’t force an agenda on them, He met them where they were and entered into dialogue from their starting point, not his. When they responded to him with a question that could be easily interpreted as “Are you serious?” Jesus replied with a question that said “Yes, I am serious. I really would like to know what is burdening you.” When the men realized that this person they had met was willing to listen to them and seriously cared, they opened right up and shared their troubles. It was only after the men had unburdened themselves and had been heard that Jesus spoke into their situation. This is an important principle for us as followers of Jesus to emulate. We must be careful to not speak into situations without listening first. How many troubles could we avoid, how much hurt could we prevent if we listened first. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was the teaching assistant in a class. It was after class one day, that I had quite a few people ask me the same question about an assignment. I explained to each person what they needed to do to complete the assignment correctly, and when the last person came up to me I jumped right into the explanation that I had given everyone else. I hadn’t even bothered to ask them a question or hear the question they had for me. I just gave them my answer. They were not happy with my assumption, especially since they had a completely different question. They felt that I had run roughshod over them and, well, I had. Boy was I embarrassed and sad that I had hurt someone and I could have avoided that if I had listened first.

All through his ministry Jesus continually asks all kinds of questions like “Who touched my robe? Where is your husband? Whose image is on this coin? Who do you say I am? Who is left to accuse you?” Jesus seems to begin every encounter by asking questions, even when others ask him questions first, in order to make sure that he fully understands the nature of the questions being asked. Because Jesus asked questions and listened to the answers, he could then ask better questions that got to the heart of the situation he faced. As he asked better questions, it made those he was interacting with ask better questions, and as the questions on both sides improved, and answers were listened to, it opened the doors for relationship to happen. After building the relationship Jesus did not presume that hospitality would be extended to him, and kept going down the road. Because he didn’t presume, he was invited in and when we emulate Jesus and don’t presume it creates the opportunity for others to recognize Jesus. It gives others the opportunity to invite Jesus in, all because we listen and ask better questions.

This not only has an application to our conversations with others, but it also has an important application in our relationship with God and our study of the bible. We must also seek to grow in the questions we ask God. As I have grown in my faith, the answers that God gave always seemed to end with another question. These questions from God through the bible and the Holy Spirit challenge us to grow in our faith, and lead us to ask some questions of our own. This learning process deepens our relationship with God, and teaches us the humility that comes from knowing that while the answers I have for today’s questions may not be sufficient for tomorrow God’s grace is sufficient every day. The earliest disciples who walked beside Jesus in his time of ministry needed Jesus to explain things and teach them, and he remains beside each of us, our present teacher ready to help us go deeper in his love and ask better questions to lead us there as we seek our answers in Him.

 


[1] Klass, Allen. In Search of the Unchurched. The Alban Institute 1996. 51

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