Have you ever met a “question talker?” They most often appear when trying to decide where to go for dinner. For example, have you ever heard something like this?
“Where do you want to go to dinner?”
“Hmmm… Where do you want to go to dinner?
But dinner is not the only topic that draws them out:
“Do you want to go to the store with me?”
“Does it look like I want to go to the store with you?”
“Luke, did you finish mowing the lawn?”
“What would you say if I said, ‘No’?”
“Did you order me the meatball sub?”
“Would a ham and swiss work?”
Now, I never said that being a “question talker” is a bad thing. Asking well-timed, reflective questions can be a great addition to the parenting toolbox. For example, when your high school student asks, “Dad, did I do a good job on my project?”, you have a number of fantastic options:
“Do you think you did the best job you could have done?”
“Are you happy with your grade based on the effort you put into the project?”
“Are you proud, really proud, that your name is on that project?”
Sometimes, I think being a “question talker,” is as important to being a good father as having an encyclopedic knowledge of Dad Jokes.
While reflecting questions back on the original interrogator can be fun and frustrating at the same time, it is also helpful. Many times, asking well-designed, thoughtful, probing questions that go beneath the surface answer can guide us to finding real answers.
As Jesus travelled the countryside, He not only taught the folks He met, but He also asked a lot of questions. In fact, He was great at it. Even when people tried to trap Him with carefully worded, gotcha questions, He always had a way of turning their questions back on them to reveal the real questions they were asking or wanted to ask.
My favorite example of this happened when a group of religious leaders tried to entangle Jesus in a political snare. First, they tried to butter him up with a little political posturing.
Their initial approach was to tell Jesus how honest, fair, truthful and courageous He was. Basically, they were saying, “We are here to learn from the best!” Then, they asked him a gotcha question, which went something like this, “Should we be paying taxes to the Roman Emperor, you know, the folks who are unjustly occupying our land and cruelly oppressing our people?” However, their question was far from honest. They already had their answer. In the words of Admiral Ackbar (for all of you Star Wars fans), “It’s a trap!”
If Jesus answered their question by saying, “No, you should not pay your taxes because God is the only true Emperor,” He would be arrested on the spot for subversion against the government. However, if He says “Yes, by all means, pay your taxes,” He alienates a majority of His Jewish followers who were barely scrapping by under Rome’s massive tax burden. Either answer lands Jesus in a lot of hot water with someone.
Jesus knew what was really happening and what these leaders were trying to do. So, Jesus counters with a question that peals back the layers of their crafty rhetoric to reveal their true intentions.
“Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?” (Matthew 22:18)
What are you really getting at?
What is the real question you want to ask me?
Are you afraid of the answer?
Before Jesus answers their original question, He asks for some clarification regarding the Roman tax.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
They answered, “The emperor’s.”
Jesus responds, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
They gave Jesus two options, A or B, and Jesus completely flips the coin question on its head. With His question and response, Jesus reminds us that we cannot reduce everything to sound bites, headlines or simple, binary arguments. Not every decision or problem can be categorized to answer a multiple-choice question that divides us into well-ordered little camps. Real, honest questions should help us better define our position or perspective, our issues and identities.
So, if Caesar can keep the coins with his image on them, what currency does God want? What does it mean to give “to God the things that are God’s?” According to Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven uses a different currency with a different image emblazoned on it. I believe that this new currency, the currency that counts to God, the currency that has any lasting value, has a familiar image…yours. This appears to be the only currency that God is interested in having.
We will continue to explore questions in our next episode, with a story that is centered around one of the most important questions that Jesus was ever asked. And, it is a question that many of us are afraid to ask.