“I loved your slide show –it reminded me of my holiday in Rome.” That enthusiastic comment had me baffled, since I’d just given an illustrated talk on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land! As far as I know there wouldn’t have been camels and Bedouin tents in Rome, let alone the sacred shrines of Israel. And I’d shown no pictures of St. Peter’s or the Coliseum. Clearly the person who praised my slideshow can’t have been paying attention or, most likely, had fallen sleep.
The fear of making a fool of ourselves can make us hesitant to comment when questions are invited after a lecture. As for the speaker he may fear a prolonged silence –a sign that he hadn’t aroused anyone’s curiosity. No one was interested in his talk. It takes courage to ask a question –unless you’re one of those people who wants everyone to realize that he knows more about the topic than the speaker!
I can remember someone like that. He wasn’t simply seeking clarification or information. No! He made it very obvious that he thought the speaker didn’t really understand his subject. In exasperation the lecturer retorted, “Who’s giving this lecture, me or you?” On the other hand there’s the speaker who’s unsure of his ground. He discourages being exposed as a charlatan with the bluff, “only a fool would contradict me.” No one was prepared to take that risk.
Then there are the malicious questioners. They set innocent-looking traps to catch someone out and discredit him. Jesus was an expert at spotting and side-stepping them. He even nudged His interrogators to fall into the pits they had dug for Him. Then there was the lecturer who said, “I don’t understand the question, but I think I know the answer.”
But usually speakers welcome questions. They’re a sign that someone’s been paying attention and even shows an interest in what he’s heard. That’s far more encouraging than a sea of blank, bored faces. Even a stupid question can be used as a springboard for the speaker to develop an idea. Once someone has had the courage to break the ice others will usually plunge in and join in the questioning.
Seeking answers distinguishes us from the brute beasts. From the moment of birth we are on a journey of discovery, of seeking answers. We are all born philosophers, wanting to understand. That was very true of Tom, a lively young lad, about five years old. Whenever the house-keeper came to work in one of our presbyteries she brought her grandson with her. He was into all the cupboards, opening all the draws, looking into everything. Persistently, repeatedly he would ask, “What’s this? Why? How does it work?
Tom’s curiosity was boundless. His sense of wonder had no limits. Life was an exciting journey of discovery. He wanted to find out –to identify things, discover how they worked, know why he should or should not do certain things. The answer to one question would lead to another. He gave us poor priests and his grandma no peace, no quiet! It was a great temptation for us to tell him to stop asking so many questions.
But that would have been a great mistake. The lad’s curiosity arose from wonder at the world in which he lived. It was good that he wanted to learn more about it. Such inquisitiveness has provided the springboard for important discoveries and has led to great thinkers striving to penetrate the mysteries of life and death, our origins and final destiny. If he did but know it, Tom’s questioning made him a budding philosopher, who would certainly have asked what does that meant!
Jesus certainly welcomed people who were honestly searching for the truth and were not afraid to ask questions. They were not ashamed to admit that they did not understand. In fact, like any good teacher, He welcomed questions. They showed that He had seized His listener’s interest and aroused his curiosity. He would use the honest search for truth and understanding as a springboard for Him to develop His teaching.
That’s the approach Jesus took when Thomas and Philip interrupted Him during His Final Discourse, just before His Passion. That happened when Jesus told the apostles that He was going ahead to prepare a place for them and that they must follow Him. Thomas, being very practical protested that they didn’t know where He was going, so how could they know how to get there. That gave Jesus the opening to explain something vital about Himself -that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Then there was Philip. He said, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ That request provided Jesus with the chance to explain something of the mystery of the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity, as He replied. ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? (Jn. 14. 9-10).
Near the beginning of John’s Gospel Andrew asked Jesus a simple question, “Where do you live?” and Jesus replied, “Come and see.” That exchange set Andrew and all of us on journey of discovery, which would take us into the very life of the Blessed Trinity, expressed in Christ’s Farewell Discourse, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (Jn. 15. 10).
Asking questions, seeking answers comes so naturally to all of us. More than this, our curiosity helps us to deepen our faith. That’s why St. Anselm wrote about “faith seeking understanding,” and added, “I believe so that I can understand.”
So let’s not be afraid to ask questions. God has given us inquiring minds and expects us to use them. As we do so, we should always remember that never will we fully understand and exhaust the mystery of God. But it’s far better to return frequently to the fountain of Truth which can more than satisfy our needs than to drain it in one go, and still remain thirsty.