Some statistics about Jesus. From the gospel record we know that he asked 307 questions. He was asked 183 questions of which he answered 3.
One of the dispiriting aspects of modern public discourse is the familiar one – the new norm in politics – of politicians speaking a lot but saying nothing. The art of not answering the question is fundamental to political life today. No wonder politics is losing the people’s trust.
In the case of Jesus, by contrast, his refusal to answer most of the questions he was asked deepens our trust in his authority and integrity. Many of the questions were traps. So, even if he didn’t answer them he did respond to them, correcting them by telling a story. Honest fictions, like a parable, help to get us to the truth more directly than purely ‘factual’ replies. On some occasions, he was simply silent, refusing to be drawn into the maze of words; but at these times his silence exposed the falsity of the questions in order to reveal the depth of the truth.
He taught, that is, more by asking questions than by giving answers. This highlights the difference between the contrasting motivation of a teacher and an instructor or an officer of orthodoxy of belief. A teacher is driven by the desire to awaken direct knowledge in the student. Just downloading the information or the answers does not lead to understanding, however well they are repeated.
I was once reading a student’s essay. Her English skills were poor but I was trying to put that aside and see what they were trying to say. Then a passage suddenly appeared, in perfect English. After a while the language collapsed again.– a not very subtle case of plagiarism. There was more truth, more direct knowledge in her struggle with language than in the dishonesty of another’s words. Politics, religion, business, medical discussions, all human communication, break trust by hiding behind words.
Why do questions, better than answers, awaken direct knowledge? Because they lead us to accept personal responsibility, practice integrity and to be humble. In this state of mind, the answer we find, even if it is ‘I don’t know’, can come as a revelation and breakthrough. We become part of a learning community, a disciple, who sees that any answer, however right, is a step on the journey not yet the destination.
The question ‘do you want to be well again?’ rings true. It focuses attention not on the speaker but on the other person, which always opens the door of truth.