Jesus is the question

The Beauty of ‘the Question’


Having experienced and embraced an adult conversion to the Christian faith, I transferred to a new institution of higher education for my third year of college. This allowed me to switch my ‘major’ from art to classics and medieval studies. In the process, I benefited from the teaching of several professors trained primarily in philosophy. My favorite among them frequently called attention to a large sign placed high above a nearby freeway. The sign said this: “Jesus is the answer.” In relation to it, our professor would ask, “but what is the question?”

Later, when I was pursuing doctoral studies in philosophical theology, I became aware of the dialectical relationship between two theological ways of understanding Jesus. Each of these two approaches to understanding Jesus’ life and ministry can be summed up in a phrase:  ‘Jesus is the answer to all our best questions;’ and or, ‘Jesus is the question that prompts all our best answers.’

From an historically Anglican-Catholic perspective, we can say that recognizing Jesus as both ‘our best question’ as well as ‘our best answer’ enhances our spiritual growth.

Henry Ossawa Tanner captures the spiritually dynamic moment of one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It is Jesus’ night conversation with Nicodemus on an upper terrace.* In it, John’s Gospel presents us with a conjunction of compelling personal narrative interposed with mystical spiritual reflection. How can we not wonder about how the venerable and trusted Nicodemus approaches the upstart rabbi in the safety of the nighttime darkness? And how can we not remain thoughtful about Nicodemus’ challenging questions, as well as how artfully Jesus turns them back upon the man who appears to ask them so sincerely?

An aspect of the historic rabbinical tradition within Judaism is its respect for the power of previously unanticipated questions. As applied to Scripture, the generative power of such questions may surpass the importance of our previously arrived-at ‘answers.’

Tanner’s painting of John’s evocative scene prompts us to consider the power and beauty of questions posed by Jesus’ teaching. Questions help us to grow. Asked and pursued with integrity, they lead us to discernment and learning. Recognizing that new insights can be gleaned from them, we begin to realize the potential within us to perceive greater beauty, live into more genuine goodness, and know fuller truth.

A contemporary approach to personal and organizational development, Appreciative Inquiry, complements this emphasis upon the positive power of questions to help us see, live well, and know what is real. The artist, Reinhold Marxhausen, as well as the photographer, Dewitt Jones, exemplify this approach in their engagement with the world around us. Marxhausen is remembered for having constantly encouraged his students to look for and then see beauty in everyday life, even in contexts like factories, side-alleys, and in ‘ordinary places’ like a nearby farmyard. Dewitt Jones, a former National Geographic magazine photographer, encourages the same approach through his videos and published material. Celebrate What’s Right with the World is both the title of one of his videos, and also a persistent theme in his advocacy for being open to finding new and unseen possibilities in ‘what is there,’ all around us. David Cooperrider’s book, Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, provides a succinct and helpful introduction to how asking better questions can help us to see, live, and know better!


*See John 3:1-15 in context. More about the art and approach to life of Reinhold Marxhausen as well as Dewitt Jones can easily be found through a google internet search. See, for example, the Marxhausen Wikipedia article (; as well as Dewitt Jones’ TEDx Talk (, and his teaching project, The Habit of Celebration ( My 2017 homily reflection on the Nicodemus conversation in John can by accessed by clicking the following link: (Lent 2 A 17_PDF).


The Beauty of What He Would Do For Us


Here we see James Tissot’s marvelous painting of a Gospel scene, which portrays Matthew’s telling of the story. Matthew mentions two blind men calling out to Jesus. Yet, Mark chooses to focus on just one of them, whom he names as Bartimaeus. But the scene largely remains the same in both Gospels. Jesus and his followers are in Jericho, on their way up to Jerusalem. They are approaching his triumphal entry into the Holy City on what we now call Palm Sunday.

I like to think of the man on the right, in this painting, as Bartimaeus, who –as Mark suggests– lost his sight at an earlier point in his life. Tissot depicts the other man’s eyes as covered, in the way that some sight-impaired people wear sunglasses. Perhaps that other man had been blind from birth. If so, He provides a contrast to Bartimaeus. Noticing this may help us appreciate the symbolic dimension of blindness and sight at the center of Mark’s Gospel. And it will help us attend to his deeper meaning. For Bartimaeus had sight earlier in life and then lost it. Now, when encountering Jesus, his ability to see is restored.

Let’s recall how, in the immediately prior story in Mark, James and John act pridefully when approaching Jesus. Do you remember the question Jesus asked them? He asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It’s no coincidence then, that Mark, in his follow-on story, records what Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus. It’s the same question: “what do you want me to do for you?” As Mark presents the two successive and paired stories, I wonder if we perceive the parallel between them. First, we hear James and John blindly ask Jesus to share in his glory. When answering the two spiritually-unseeing disciples, Jesus provides a forceful correction, if not also a rebuke. Then, in the following story, when Bartimaeus perceptively asks for the recovery of his sight, Jesus responds mercifully to the physically blind man.

This tells us something rather important. For if we talk to our Lord at all, like the disciples we probably make requests of him. And, what we ask Jesus to do may, or may not, be in accord with his will for us; and it may not fit with God’s plans for us. James and John asked for something that diminished their experience of participating in God’s Kingdom. Whereas Bartimaeus asked for something that opened up the fullness of the Kingdom. And, it made him “well.”

We can then draw out the implications of this contrast. Because Jesus is not just ‘the answer to all our questions.’ Jesus also acts as ‘the question who prompts our best answers.’

In other words, Jesus asks us the same question: What do you want me to do for you? This could be his most challenging question to us as the people of God, and not just to us as individuals! So then, if we could ask him for only one thing, what would it be?


This post is based on my homily for Sunday, October 28, 2018, which can be accessed by clicking here. The image above is James Tissot’s painting, titled The Two Blind Men at JerichoOther homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here.