Proper 20B/Ordinary 25B/Pentecost 18

30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


The average child asks 300 questions a day

We ask questions almost every day.

  • Is dinner ready?
  • Why Does Hawaii Have Interstate Highways?
  • Why is the wi-fi down?
  • How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck if a Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood?
  • What happened to the Eagles on Sunday?
  • What is the air velocity of a sparrow?
  • Why is there a leak in the roof?
  • How Many Licks Does It Take to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop?
  • Who shot John F. Kennedy?
  • Why did the disciples not ask Jesus what he meant?

Some questions are annoying and others are informative, but questions are our friends.  Seem simple? Sure it is, yet somehow the disciples still missed it. At this point in Mark’s account, Jesus has taken them aside to teach them about his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. They don’t understand. We might make much of that, especially given that it’s the second time Jesus has explained things to them. But I’m willing to forgive their confusion — after all, this is a pretty mind-exploding thing Jesus is telling them. I mean, absolutely no one expected that the promised Messiah would redeem Israel through suffering. So, if they don’t understand, even this second time, I get it.

What’s harder to overlook is that they are too afraid to ask any questions. Part of this, of course, may be Mark’s characteristic focus on the faults and failings of the disciples. But, then again, are we all that different? I know far too many Christians who are also often afraid to ask questions. Sometimes it’s because we believe we should already know the answer and we don’t want to look dumb. Sometimes it’s because we are nervous that our question isn’t “okay,” that maybe there is something wrong with our question or, indeed, with questions in general.

Why is that? I have a hunch that, as a culture, we tend to equate intelligence with knowing things. I understand that to some degree. Smart people seem to know a lot of stuff. But what if we could also imagine that intelligence is measured not simply by what you know, but also by how eager you are to learn more. That is, it’s at the edges of what we know that there is the greatest chance to grow in understanding. Which is why questions are so important. Questions are not the mark of a lack of intelligence but of a curious and lively mind.

There’s another, and perhaps more ominous, reason folks may not want to ask questions, though: we may think it is unfaithful. Somewhere, sometime, many of us were taught that questions are a sign of doubt and doubt is the opposite of faith. Toward correcting this unfortunate turn of events, we can point out two things:

  1. Questions are often far more a mark of perceptive curiosity than they are of doubt;
  2. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Faith, in fact, grows in the soil of doubts and challenges. Absent doubt, we may talk of knowledge, but given that faith is “belief in things not seen,” doubt seems to be an essential ingredient.

Moreover, not only does no one anticipate Jesus’ cross, but his resurrection is even more incredible, unlooked for, and downright shocking. In fact, in all four gospels the reaction to the news of Jesus’ resurrection is never “we knew it” or “about time” or “just like he promised.” Rather, it is doubt. Why? Because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are so logic-defying and world-changing that, quite frankly, if you don’t have doubts you’re probably not paying attention.

So back to today’s reading. Yes, I can understand that the disciples didn’t understand, and I can even sympathize with the things that make them — and us — hesitant to ask questions. But oh, what might have happened if they could imagine that there is nothing Jesus’ wants more than to share their questions, their struggles, and their doubts so that he might help them understand his teaching and, in this way, draw closer to God. Perhaps if they had asked, they would have understood more quickly and easily — to jump to the second half of this Sunday’s passage — that greatness does not lay in power but in compassion and is not achieved by status but by service.

And perhaps, just perhaps, the same is true of us. If Jesus’ kingdom — so different from the kingdoms we normally live in that we are tempted to call it the “anti-kingdom” — is understandably difficult to apprehend, then we should ask questions. If Jesus’ death seems meaningless or his resurrection hard to accept, we should ask questions. If we wonder how Jesus can be with us or where God is when it hurts, we should again ask questions.

So what questions do you have about faith?  What questions do you have about God?  What questions do you have about the Bible?

I want you to take a moment and write down one question you have about Scripture, God, or the faith and pass it in with the offering. Yes, with the offering, which will be a reminder that just as we give God our time, talents, and money, so also do we gratefully give God our questions, challenges, and doubts.

“Leaving there, they went through Galilee. He didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” They didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it.”

Let us not be afraid to ask those questions about Scripture, God and Faith.  For in asking we might better understand our relationship to Jesus Christ, and how to be great in the kingdom of God by “welcoming one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.


Commentaries provided by David Lose, Caroline Lewis, Amy Oden and Stephen Lewis