Some of the most memorable words of Jesus from the gospels come in the form of questions.
- “What are you looking for?” (Jesus to his first disciples in John 1:38).
- “Who do you say that I am?” (Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 16:15).
- “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (After the calming of the storm in Matthew 14:31).
- “Do you love me?” (Jesus to Peter three times in John 21:15-17).
According to one count, Jesus asks 135 questions in the gospels. They are among some of the most striking moments in the gospels, including the Passion, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Many parables contain puzzling questions. And Jesus often scolds His disciples and followers for their lack of faith in the form of a question, such as the above example from the calming of the storm.
I propose that what Jesus is saying in these moments maybe almost as important as how He is saying it. The form of His sentences has significance itself.
Here, I am extending the insight of the celebrated twentieth century media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, who famously declared that the “medium is the message.” (McLuhan, incidentally, was Catholic.) What McLuhan meant was that the medium through which we receive information affects the message and even becomes the message. McLuhan was talking about the differences between media such as print newspapers and television, but we can see how the same principle applies even on the microscopic level of grammar.
When Jesus asks the woman accused of adultery where her accusers had gone (John 8:10), He could have just as easily delivered that information in the form of a statement. By asking her a question, He makes her respond to Him and participate in her redemptive moment. She is not a passive bystander, or a victim immobilized as Jesus sends her accusers scattering. She becomes part of the story.
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