The Questions We Ask: Reflections on Matthew 13:53-57

When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. Matthew 13:53-57


Jesus was in his hometown, and he began to teach the people. They rejected him, and he famously proclaims “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

Notice the movement that happens in the passage. The people make a rather dramatic shift in their posture. In a matter of questions, they go from being amazed to utter dislike. And not just dislike, but they are offended by what Jesus says and does. How do they move from amazement to offense? Simple, they ask questions. 

There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, when they are geared to someone in particular. The questions this mob was asking weren’t questions, looking for discussion, they were questions that allowed them to justify their prejudice. 

In a world of increasing political divide, you can see mobs of people ask similar questions. They aren’t looking for answers, they are looking to defend their position—their prejudice. If you don’t know what I mean, go read the comments on nearly any political post, and specifically look for the use of the question mark. While some will be looking for actual answers, many will be using the question to strengthen their argument. This is what’s happening here. 

Their final question isn’t really a question at all, it’s a culmination of their accusations: Where then did this man get all these things? In other words: this kind of Jesus could never do these kinds of tricks. 

When Jesus says that a prophet has no honor, I doubt it was because they chose to question him. I think Jesus loves to be questioned. It’s not that they were questioning Jesus. It’s that they never actually asked him anything. They debated amongst themselves, and left Jesus out of the equation altogether. 

There are number of different kinds of questions: questions that you ask so you can learn something, questions you ask so that you can teach someone, and then there are questions we use to simply connect the dots in our argument. Students ask questions to learn. Teachers ask questions to teach. Fools ask questions to defend their argument.

The sure way to know the difference is in the moments after you ask a question: Do you long for an answer from someone, do you have an answer in mind already, or are you simply trying to make a point? There’s nothing wrong with asking question to teach someone, unless you’re not their teacher. It’s even worse if you’re not their teacher, and you also don’t really want to teach them anything: you just want to make your point. If you have an argument, make it. Articulate it. Discuss it. But following along in a groupthink of questions to support your community’s prejudice is unwise and dangerous. 

The healthier alternative is to step into the role of the student. Ask a question you don’t know the answer to. In fact, this kind of question will not only lead to answers, it will lead to healthier communities. 

I wish this mob would have done that with Jesus. Oh! the questions they could have asked him!

They couldn’t ask Jesus these kind of questions because they had already assumed that they were the experts. This is the dangerous part of being a teacher. We get into the habit of thinking we have the answers. 

If we are to grow in our faith, we need to step out of the teacher role.  Our questions should come from a place of humility; they need to come out of a willingness to admit that we don’t have the answers. 

These kind of questions will help you grow in your faith, for they open you up to learn more from God and God’s community. But questions designed to support your own position will likely do just that, they will further isolate you (and possibly others) from learning anything new. 

Don’t fall for the groupthink that plagues our society. If you’ve got a question, stop and ask yourself: Am I just trying to make a point? or Do I really want to learn?

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