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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 09/23/2012

“They did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.”  That’s a verse from today’s gospel that I usually haven’t paid much attention to, I’ve just kind of glossed over it.  But when I looked at what some of the commentaries had to say about this text, there were at least a couple that made note of this verse, mostly with speculation about what would have happened if the disciples hadn’t been afraid to ask Jesus what he was talking about when he again spoke of his betrayal, death and resurrection.

What it made me think about though, was why were they afraid to ask Jesus about what he said?  It’s easy for me to think about that because I was one of those who was always afraid to ask questions in school, so I’ve been there.  I think I can get inside the heads of the disciples concerning their hesitancy to ask questions, so here’s a few possibilities.

First of all, they might have been afraid to ask because they didn’t want to look stupid.  I think that’s what I was most afraid of.  I don’t know if Jesus ever said what teachers always say, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  There are no stupid questions; the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.”  I don’t know if Jesus ever said that, but even if he did the disciples were probably not a whole lot different than many of us who say, “Oh, yeah.  There are stupid questions and I’m not going to risk asking one.”

Another possibility for the disciples was that they didn’t understand enough about what Jesus was saying to even ask a question.  I remember seminary classes like that, Christian Theology 3, with a professor who was and is flat out brilliant and a good guy but someone who thinks and talks on a level that most of us just can’t reach.  I said to one of my friends after one class, “Do have any idea what he was talking about?”  And he said, “Nope,” but we and the rest of the class sat there dutifully taking notes hoping that our blank expressions wouldn’t betray our incomprehension. 

Well, think about the disciples.  They weren’t taking Christian theology but Jesus had been dazzling them and the crowds with displays of his power so they were focused on that and on riding on his coattails to positions where they could share in his power and now Jesus is talking about being betrayed and killed and then rising again.  Just what question do you ask when someone says they’re going to rise from the dead?  It wouldn’t have made sense to them because such things didn’t happen.

A third possibility was that they didn’t ask because they really didn’t want to know what Jesus was talking about.  They had their ideas of who they wanted Jesus to be and it was easier to hold on to those ideas hoping that Jesus would eventually conform to them than it would have been to find out what following Jesus really meant.  Sometimes, blissful ignorance does seem to be a better alternative. 

A final possibility could be that they knew that if they asked a question, Jesus might well respond with a question of his own which would lead to more questions, more uncertainty when what they really wanted was the certainty of concrete answers.  To avoid the frustration of getting their brains tangled up in stuff they couldn’t figure out, again it was easier not to ask.

Maybe you’re one of those people who always has your hand up or had your hand up, full of questions but I’ll bet a lot of you can relate to the disciples failure to ask Jesus what he was talking about.  Like me, you know how they felt and maybe that carries over to your faith too.  Even though you’re not sure about things, you don’t dare ask questions perhaps for all of the reasons I mentioned, perhaps for others as well, but I want to talk a little bit about my last two reasons.

We don’t ask questions because we don’t really want to know.  Texts like this one today and last week’s about taking up your cross are about discipleship.  They’re about how to follow Jesus but things like losing your life for the sake of the gospel and whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all can sometimes make you think “I can’t do this.  I want to follow Jesus but I don’t think I can follow this Jesus.  He’s asking too much.  I don’t think I can do it.” 

Rather than ask questions though, because we’re afraid of what we might find out if we do, we kind of quickly slip past verses like this, try to change the subject and keep following the Jesus we want to follow and can follow, the Jesus who is sweet and nice and who loves the little children and forgives us but who doesn’t ask too much of us.  We’ll follow the Jesus who makes us feel good but who doesn’t impact our way of life very much, we can keep doing what we want to.  Start asking questions and who knows what you’ll get into; you might find out about stuff you don’t really want to know, about things you don’t really want to do; best to remain quiet.

The other big risk in asking questions about our faith is the risk of uncertainty.  A lot of times if we do ask questions what we’re hoping for is clarification.  Probably a lot of the questions I was afraid to ask in school would have helped me with that.  But you don’t have to hang around with Jesus very long to find out he wasn’t big on providing clarity.  He was much more likely to answer a question with a question of his own or if he does provide an answer it’s vague and a little mysterious so at first it doesn’t seem very helpful.

But it seems quite clear to me that Jesus wanted his followers, from the first disciples all the way down to us, to wrestle with some things.  He wasn’t into providing absolute answers about himself or anything else and that can be troubling because at least some of the time we want those answers; we want to know!  Well, the church has provided those answers in its doctrines and creeds and confessions and for some that’s good enough.  They’ll accept what the church says and not ask any questions that challenge the church’s answers and that’s OK.  If that’s the clarity and the certainty you need, that’s OK. 

But what if that doesn’t work for you?  If you start asking questions about the church’s answers or if you start poking around into the biblical texts that support those answers it’s most likely just going to lead to more questions.  Some people will tell you that the Bible is life’s answer book but in a lot of ways it’s life’s question book and the more you get into it, the more questions you have because it does leave things open to interpretation, in fact it even says things in one place that seem to contradict what it says someplace else. 

So some don’t ask because they just don’t want to deal with the uncertainty; they’ll settle where they are in their faith and that’s enough.  Actually I think all of us make that stop in our faith journey from time to time and come back to that stop off and on.  We’re all there some of the time.  I’ve mentioned to many of you those times at seminary when I just wanted to say, “Tell me what you want me to believe and I’ll believe it,” because I was tired of the struggle, tired of the questions. I would have been happy to just settle where I was for awhile.

Again though, based on Jesus’ approach to his own disciples, he must have felt that questioning and uncertainty was part of coming to faith, that just being told the right answers wasn’t necessarily the best path.  Just being told the answers does work for some, but Jesus has always had room for those who have questions.

Underlying all the reasons for being afraid to ask questions may be the fear that asking questions means your faith isn’t good enough.  One of the things I’ve learned though is that my faith isn’t good enough, but it doesn’t have to be.  It doesn’t have to be because Jesus’ faith is good enough.  It’s good enough for me and it’s good enough for you.

If you haven’t figured that out yet, I hope you do.  It doesn’t answer all the questions but it does put them all in perspective.  It puts them all in the hands of Jesus.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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