Questions: wrongly asked, answered rightly

Readings: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Mark 11:27-33

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” 

They argued with one another, “if we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him:’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” – they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as a true prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” [Mark 11:27-33, NRSV]

Their Response: We do not know. 

Their Honest Thoughts: We know, but we are afraid to say so.

The True Answer: We do not know.

The elders, scribes, and priests weren’t seeking God when they asked their questions: they were doing their best to keep God’s grace confined to the accepted venues and authorized dealers. A controlled God, a predictable God, a God that colored within the lines. John was the human embodiment of scribbling outside the lines, regardless of his baptism coming from heaven. That’s not how truth is supposed to look; he’s not the one God is supposed to choose.

The problem isn’t in the answer, it’s in the asking. If I ask bigger-than-life-and-death questions for reasons other than wanting bigger-than-life-and-death answers, I won’t recognize the truth even when it comes from my own lips.

How often do I ask profound questions, not wanting the answers? How much of God’s grace and presence am I willing to ignore because it doesn’t dress in the right clothes or conform to my limited expectations?

Maybe this Advent waiting time is necessary – not because I don’t know the right question and answer, but because I’m not really prepared to receive either one quite yet. Maybe this walk through scripture, this road to Bethlehem, is my best shot at wanting the answer God gave to my ultimate question: Do you love me?


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I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

2 thoughts on “Questions: wrongly asked, answered rightly”

  1. I once heard a management “expert” espouse that one should not ask a question for which she/he did not already have an answer. My, my—are we afraid to learn something outside our preconceived world?
    Sometimes it’s more important to have a viewing point than a point of view.
    Love “Response vs. Honest Thoughts vs. True Answer”!!!

    1. Thanks, Bill. I think we would all be better off if we asked the questions we couldn’t answer easily! peace, Johnna

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