Jesus liked to ask probing questions. This much is obvious from a quick reading of the Gospels. But why?
I mean, if what we believe about Jesus is true (namely, that he’s the Second Person of the Trinity, fully divine and fully human), then why does he need to ask questions? He already knows the answers!
In John 5 we see an example of Jesus’ propensity toward asking probing questions. He asks a man who had been suffering for a very long time this question: “Do you want to get well?”
Jesus’ Probing Questions
So let’s look at this story. Here’s John 5.1-9a:
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 1 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
As I’ve written about before, since Jesus was involved in organized religion, he made his way up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. While in Israel’s capital, Jesus encountered a man which John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, calls an “invalid.” We don’t know what exactly was wrong with this man. All we know is that his condition was persistent (it had afflicted him for 38 years according to verse 5) and that it made movement slow and difficult for him (we see this in verse 7). He may have been paralyzed, lame, or extremely weak; we’re simply not sure.
But Jesus saw this man and learned that he had been in this sad state for a great length of time. Think about this: the man that Jesus encounters here had been struck with this malady for longer than the entirety of many people’s lives in the Mediterranean world in the first century! In other words, this man’s condition was deeply-rooted and wouldn’t be easily “fixed.”
However, this man was sitting next to a pool that supposedly had healing powers, so much so that, according to verse 3, many suffering people came to it for healing. Why had this man not been healed? How did he get to this pool each day? It was likely that he would have lived elsewhere, perhaps even outside of the city walls. So, how did a man who couldn’t muster up enough movement to get to the pool before others get himself to this location each day?
It’s in this context that Jesus asks one of his poignant, probing questions: “Do you want to get well?”
Isn’t this a cruel question? Obviously this man wants to get well, right? He drags himself to the pool each day after all! But maybe Jesus had another reason for asking this question.
Here’s my theory, I think that Jesus wanted to have this man evaluate his own situation. He wanted to hear this man’s reasoning for why he hasn’t gotten better.
And that’s exactly what Jesus got!
In verse 7 we learn two exceedingly sad facts: 1) This man was under the impression that only the first person into the pool would be healed, thus leaving him at a distinct disadvantage considering his condition; and 2) This man was alone, he didn’t have anyone to help him.
In other words, he not only suffered physically but he was defeated and alone.
And suffering, defeated, and alone people are Jesus’ specialty! He consistently reaches out to those in his society who are hurting the most, who are most alone, and who are most downtrodden. And when he does, he shows them love.
So how does Jesus help here? We’re not told why Jesus did what he did, but we can assume that it was out of love and concern for this man. He says to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
What happens next is mind-boggling.
At once the man is cured! This was no gradual healing! He can walk freely for the first time in 38 years!
Then, out of obedience to Jesus’ request, this man picks up his mat and walks. Why are these little details important? Picking up the mat was a sign that this man had been healed to such an extent that he could not only walk, but that he could carry his own bedding. Jesus was giving this man an opportunity to show himself and everyone else that he had been healed completely!
How amazing! The entire world was open to him again!
And this whole scene started with Jesus trademark probing questions!
What does all of this mean for us? What are some things we can take away from this story as we go about following Jesus in the real world today?
- Jesus still asks probing questions — Most of us won’t hear the audible voice of Jesus asking us probing questions, but we can still hear him in the Scriptures, through prayer, in our experiences, within our communities, and in any other ways that he so chooses. Our duty in those moments is to respond to Jesus’ probing questions with honesty and candor, just as we see in the Gospels. When we do so, we open ourselves up to whatever Jesus might have for us!
- Let’s ask probing questions too! — Now it’s not always appropriate to ask questions all the time but doing so often comes in handy. Asking probing questions can be disarming and they can let the person answering the question share on their own terms instead of ours. I’ve recently been reading a book that explores this idea from a leadership perspective and I highly recommend it! It’s called Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life and it’s written by Tom Hughes, the co-lead senior pastor at Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, CA (a city near where I live).
- As we are involved in organized religion, let’s keep our eyes open — Jesus went to Jerusalem to participate in a Jewish festival. He could have kept his head down and his mouth shut, doing his religious duties as quickly and quietly as possible. But he didn’t do that, did he? Instead he used his trip to Jerusalem as an opportunity to put the interests of a suffering person before his own. As followers of Jesus, this is our calling too. As we engage in the good things associated with organized religion (Bible reading and study, prayer, small groups, gathered worship, etc.), let’s not miss the divine appointments that God sets up for us to see, hear, care for, and love those who are marginalized, voiceless, downtrodden, and forgotten.
What do you think about the fact that Jesus asks probing questions? Why does he do this? And what can we learn from it? Let me know in the comments below.