Probing Questions Jesus' Way of Helping People See

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?”

probing questions

Scott McLeod … MMM! Cookies!

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. [4]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!

So What?

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?

  1. 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!
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

Organized Religion Is it as evil as people make it out to be?

Organized religion, especially the “institutional” church in the West, has gotten a lot of flack in recent years.  Is this popular negative assessment fair?  What can we learn about organized religion from the life of Jesus?

organized religion

By: fusion-of-horizons Doesn’t this church look like some kind of Eldar building fromWarhammer 40k? Bonus points if you have any idea what I’m talking about here!     

Organized Religion and It’s Perception

It seems rather obvious that people are less and less into organized religion these days.  Church attendance is down and continues to decrease, so much so that some church buildings are being converted into night clubs, small businesses, and residences.

And when surveyed, people are increasingly saying that they’re spiritual but not religious.  Usually what people seem to mean by this is that they want to believe in a higher power or a generically loving Jesus, but not be connected to the big “C” Church with all of its baggage.

Perhaps THE voice for this movement is Jefferson Bethke, the star of a viral YouTube video entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word.”  Here it is:

His piece of poetry was so popular that he ended up getting a book deal out of it (here’s the link to the book: Jesus > Religion).

Why is this the case?  Why do so many people want to be spiritual but also want to distance themselves from organized religion?

Here are a few ideas that come to my mind:

  • Organized religion represents closed-mindedness and bigotry for many, especially younger people.
  • Many people were hurt directly or indirectly by organized religion.  Maybe there was abuse, neglect, or misuse of power.  And perhaps people’s parents forced religion on them.
  • Maybe some people don’t like the feeling that religion brings with it obligations to obey things while being spiritual is more nebulous.
  • Being spiritual seems more open and inclusive than organized religion is typically represented.
  • And being spiritual is much less political in nature than being associated with organized religion tends to be.

I’m sure that there are dozens of other reasons (let me know some in the comments below!), but the point is this: many people are not pleased with organized religion these days.

Jesus and Organized Religion

And another reason that many people give for their disdain for organized religion goes something like this: Jesus was more about the heart and spirituality than all that religious stuff!

But is this sentiment true?  What do the authors of the Gospels reveal to us about Jesus’ connection to organized religion?

This morning I was doing my devotional time and I began reading John 5.  I didn’t get very far before something stood out to me.  Here it is (John 5.1):

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.

This verse is easily passed over when reading the exciting narratives of John 4 and 5.  But it highlights something interesting: Jesus was involved in organized religion.

Jesus left his home-base and traveled by foot or caravan to Jerusalem.  Why?  Did he like the mall in Jerusalem?  Nope!  He went up to Israel’s capital in order to participate in a Jewish festival.

To repeat: Jesus was involved in organized religion.

So the mentality that Jesus hated organized religion and was only about spirituality is simply wrong, the text doesn’t support this idea.

However, we should note that when Jesus engaged in organized religion, he did so in ways that brought glory to God and furthered his mission, the Missio Dei.

Often, when we engage in organized religion we do so out of obligation or tradition.  And even when we have good intentions, we often simply support the status quo of the religious group we’re part of instead of pursuing Jesus and his mission at all costs.

In the story in John 5, Jesus went up to celebrate the festivals.  But as he was in Jerusalem he kept his eyes open — and in so doing he met someone in need and helped him out.

At another time Jesus preached at a synagogue, another example of Jesus engaging in organized religion (Luke 4).  But, again, Jesus did so in ways that furthered God’s glory and mission, this time encouraging the people to share the good news with the downcast (which wasn’t a popular message).

And there are many, many other examples of how Jesus engaged in organized religion.

In fact, this was such a common part of Jesus’ ministry, that his earliest followers did the same.  Check out this passage from the first part of Acts 2.46:

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

The earliest followers of Jesus were involved in organized religion too, meeting in the temple courts.  Later, in Acts 3.1, we see Peter and John following Jesus again, going to the temple but keeping their eyes open to further God’s glory and mission by helping someone out.

And, lastly in this section, Paul almost always started ministry in a new area by preaching in the synagogue or whatever other organized gathering of Jews he could find.  And when he did so, he always found ways to point to the love and grace of Jesus.  In other words, Paul was involved in organized religion as well.

So What Does This Mean for Us Today?

So Jesus and his earliest followers didn’t shy away from organized religion.  Why, then, should we?  Wouldn’t it be better for us to follow their leads (especially that of Jesus) by engaging in organized religion but always with an eye toward bringing God glory and furthering his kingdom?

Here are a few initial thoughts about how we can move forward today:

  1. “Because” is not a good reason.  We need a better reason to be engaged in organized religion than “because.”  It’ not enough that we feel like we should or someone we love wants us to.  And “that’s the way we’ve always done things” isnot enough either.
  2. Actually ENGAGE in organized religion. Just like Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and so many others, we should participate in organized religion on purpose.  As we do so, are there people for us to love?  Are there unhelpful tradition for us to challenge?  Are there opportunities to share and embody the good news?
  3. Make religion about connection.  From the beginning of God’s calling us to gather to worship him together, he did so in order that we would connect with him and with one another.  In fact, from eternity past and into eternity future, the Triune God has always been about connection, engaging in the divine and mysterious dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And as we gather to worship him together, we join in that dance, thus connecting with God and with one another.

 

What do you think?  What value is there to be found in organized religion?  And how do we avoid its potential pitfalls?  Let me know in the comments below!