Jesus was able to do more with a question than others can manage in hours of speaking and persuading. With his questions he had the power to undo men, or put them back together. His questions cut through all pretense and hypocrisy. His questions expose and often wound. They also minister faith and strength to those who lack it. Jesus chose his questions carefully with the wisdom of one whose mouth was well taught, and in an instant accomplished great damage against an enemy, or great help to a friend.
Jesus used questions in his teaching to arrest the attention of the listener, and enable them to be honest with themselves. He also used questions as weapons against his accusers. They were unable to hide their true motives, or their sheer ignorance, when he turned his great mind and insightful heart upon them and asked them the question they did not want to hear. Their logic was overturned, their safe place exposed, and their self-assurance destroyed.
A question punches through your certainty. It knocks you off balance. It exposes your bluff for what it is. It makes you doubt your doubts and question your assumptions. A well-placed question is like an ear worm; it gets inside your head, and it’s difficult to shake. It gnaws away at your foundations, and exposes your inconsistencies. It makes you panic. A question might also enable you to catch a glimpse of light when all is darkness.
To the anxious Jesus asks: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” To the hypocrite, so sure of his good standing before God, he asks: “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” To a cripple who has grown accustomed to a life lived in dependence on others he asks: “Do you want to be healed?”
To man-pleasers he asks: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” To the fearful, cowering adulteress he asks: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” To vindictive and envious religionists he asks: “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” To the overconfident Big Fisherman he asks: “Will you lay down your life for me?”
A selection of some of his other questions:
Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Why do you question in your hearts?
I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?
Can a blind man lead a blind man?
Where is your faith?
What is written in the Law? How do you read it?
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?
And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?
When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?
Why do you think evil in your hearts?
How can you speak good, when you are evil?
Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?
Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
But who do you say that I am?
Why do you ask me about what is good?
What do you want?
What do you want me to do for you?
Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?
What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?
Have you never read…?
Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?
Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?
Why does this generation seek a sign?
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
For what can a man give in return for his soul?
What were you discussing on the way?
Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?
Why do you call me good?
Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.
Why put me to the test?
So, could you not watch with me one hour?
Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?
Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And, to the guilty betrayer and coward he offers an opportunity for redemption, for saying things not said, when he asks: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?… do you love me?… do you love me?”