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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Stupid Questions for Jesus

2015-09-20 Mk 09 30-37 Stupid Questions for Jesus

Stupid Questions for Jesus

But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Bless their hearts. The disciples had never been told, "The only stupid question is the one that isn't asked."

I always preach the "There are no stupid questions" rule, especially about the Bible. ANY question about the Bible makes my month. Last Wednesday I got an email that said, (quote), "Good morning, James. I have what may be a stupid question [about the Bible]." I almost swooned. 

You have to understand. I have two degrees in ministry. I live for Bible questions and the days every five to seven years when they come up. Because most of the questions I get are more like, "What's Cheryl's cell number? I need to ask her something. About the Bible. Do you think she'd mind if I called her this late? On a Saturday? During the game?" No I don't. I don't think she'd mind at all. 

Trust me. If it's about the Bible - or the Qu'ran - close enough - there is absolutely no such thing as a stupid question.

Carl Sagan, said, "There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question".1

Now, I know public school teachers who would argue with that. They're the ones with red spots on their forehead from banging their heads on their desks. And reading today's scripture, where the disciples are debating which one of them should be elected president, and they're afraid to ask Jesus their embarrassing questions about what will soon be The Bible, I wonder if teacher Jesus might also want to bend the rule about "no stupid questions." It could explain why he spent so much time by himself, in the wilderness, banging his head against trees.


They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it for 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." 

We are so smart. We know what Jesus means. But back then, what Jesus was saying was so troubling, so scary, so heretical, and so anti-Roman-government-that-loves-crucifying-rebels that he goes into stealth mode through Galilee. 

And the disciples were his loyal tribe, right? They had his back, right? 

Not exactly. Because look - the very next line says:

But they did not understand what he was saying and [ - and what?] and were afraid [afraid of what? Romans? No. They were afraid] to ask him.

Silly disciples. That's what we think about them a lot of time, right? They were, like, The Twelve Stooges. Nice guys, just not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

But something else to remember. Who's writing this Gospel? Whose name is at the top? Mark. A disciple. It's important to remember that a disciple wrote this scripture in which the disciples look like dimwits. So maybe their density has a deeper reason. Maybe Mark's throwing his friends under the bus as cautionary tale to us. "Kids - don't let this happen to you. Don't be afraid of Jesus. And don't be afraid of your stupid questions for him."


Remember school? Some of you are, like, "Yeah, they call it Friday." Remember the awkward silences when the teacher asked, "Any questions?" And aside from the one genius who felt it was her sacred duty to stretch her hand and wave, nobody said a thing. Remember that?

Why don't we ask questions? Because we don't care? Sometimes. But mainly it's not because we don't know, it's because we don't want people to know we don't know. Not knowing is embarrassing.

Like, when the teacher calls on you and your brain says, "See ya bye." And teacher says, "WRONG ANSWER!!! Go to the back of the row!" And the whole class points and laughs and the room spins and you're about to cry or leave a puddle.

(Anybody else's palms getting sweaty?)

An old woman once told her granddaughter, "Chica, if you ask a question it makes you look stupid for 5 minutes - but if you don't ask - you stay stupid for fifty years, so always ask".2

Yeah, well, that's fine, Abuela, until your class reunion. Everybody – let me put that in all caps – EVERYBODY – is scared to death about the embarrassment. Especially over Jesus, and the Bible, and God. You think you OUGHT to know. You think you OUGHT to have the answers. But you don't. And if you ask, everyone will know.

The really sad thing is that these unasked questions are even more important than Algebra. What does Jesus mean? Nobody asks. These are questions about God, and life, and what happens after you die, and why Jesus had to die. Here's the good news of the Gospel According to Mark: If you find your lack of knowledge embarrassing, you're not, like, stupid. You're like a disciple.

Our stupid questions show how much we don't know. We're all afraid of them. Plus, big reveal, preachers are deathly afraid that we've got nothing but stupid answers. But dig down. It's deeper than the questions and the answers. It's about the fear. It's the fear of being discovered for who we are.


"A story is told of a student who travelled a long distance to meet with a famous rabbi. The student humbly asks, "Reb, how do I become wise?" The rabbi looks carefully at the student an answers, "From making good choices." 
"But reb, how will I know to make good choices?" The rabbi responds, "From experience." "But," the student responds, "how do I get that experience?" The Rabbi smiles and says, "From bad choices.""3

And, I would add, from asking stupid questions.

Look what Mark is doing here. He combines two lessons to make one point. Lesson One is about the disciples being afraid to ask what they worry is a stupid question (that is, would make them look stupid if asked). Lesson Two is the disciples debating over who's #1. Look how Teacher-Rabbi Jesus sums up both lessons:

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."


When it comes to questions about Jesus, and about the Bible, and about God, and about things both before and after this life, we're all little kids. Just admit it. The more we know, the more we know we don't know. And the more we know we don't know, the more there is to learn. That can be frustrating. Or, it can very, very exciting.

Cheryl Sandberg, of Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, author of Lean In, and encourager of many, women, especially, asked the question of some graduating college students: "What would you do if you weren't afraid of failing?"4

I think the Apostle Mark is asking us, "What would you ask if you weren't afraid of asking?" "Who would you be if you weren't afraid of being seen -- as you really are?" If there were no such thing as embarrassment, how would you be?

I don't know. Maybe those are stupid questions. 

Or maybe not.

3 Theocademy, Lesson 2, Preparation for Ordered Ministry, Being Leaders. http://www.theocademy.com/lessons-for-ruling-elders-and-deacons