Jesus poses a problem

November 4, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 22
Matthew Bailey-Dick |

How do questions bring you closer to God?

The Bible includes several hundred instances where Jesus poses a question to an individual, a small group of followers or a large crowd. Rarely looking for information, he often asks questions in order to challenge, encourage, invite or inspire.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of Jesus’ most well-known “teacherly moments.” In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus asks the crowd, “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” On the surface, we see Jesus utilizing this agricultural question to teach how to discern between “good fruit messages” and “bad fruit messages.” The question carries a challenge: Although we know that bad trees cannot bear good fruit, how do we make sense of the times when we honestly expect good results from some of our own poor efforts?

Asking questions is just one of multiple strategies that Jesus uses to teach his disciples. He preaches not through broadcasting treatises or distributing lecture notes, but through nurturing dialogue, enacting hospitality and loving those around him.

Jesus usually asks his questions in such a way as to help people deepen their faith through the lens of their own experience. His references to grapes, figs and thistles are not just snazzy metaphors; these are examples of everyday realities that his followers experience. He invites his followers into dialogue based on this shared experience.

In my current work, I am hearing from both laypeople and pastors who want to learn about the intersection of Anabaptism and contemporary life. We are planning workshops on themes like reading the Bible as a community, figuring out leadership transitions, walking the talk of peace and cultivating spiritual practices. One of the things that excites me the most about the new Anabaptist Learning Workshop I’m a part of, is its vision for participatory learning and its commitment to work within the tradition of adult education.

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, a forebear of the adult education movement, advocates in his famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, for what he called “problem-posing education,” in which students become co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher. According to Freire, the goal is to nurture critical consciousness about the problems of the world and thereby motivate students to change the world.

Those of us who spend time in educational settings—both students and teachers—have a lot to learn about how our educational practices can foster critical consciousness. In the context of Christian faith, to what extent do our Mennonite schools motivate us to change the world?

In chapter after chapter of the gospel accounts, Jesus teaches and challenges his followers by asking a question. Perhaps more often than telling a parable, Jesus poses a problem, and embedded in the problem is a blessing.

Mennonites of 2015: “We want to be faithful!” Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?”

Matthew Bailey-Dick is coordinator of the Anabaptist Learning Workshop (recently launched by Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and Conrad Grebel University College).

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