Questions, questions…. Some of you will know that before I was a vicar I worked for 12 years as a market researcher. Many might consider that a good way to describe my old job would be as a ‘professional nuisance’! However, if I was asked to describe my work, I would often answer that I was paid to ask questions.
There’s an art to a good question – and without good questions, we couldn’t get the good answers our clients were paying lots of money for. In today’s passage we fast forward a couple of chapters to the day after Palm Sunday. This allows us to focus on the events leading up to Easter over the next couple of weeks, but to give you a very brief recap of the two chapters I’ve skipped (with apologies):
Jesus reaffirms the value and holiness of marriage; he upends prevailing social prejudices by blessing children (considered to have no status) and challenging one of the wealthy elite; he continues to try and tell his disciples about his impending death and resurrection, and teaches them that true greatness and leadership is found in humble service; he is acknowledged as ‘Son of David’ i.e. the coming king, first by a blind man and then by the crowds in Jerusalem; and he prophetically chastises his own people for their lack of fruit as God’s chosen ones, whilst encouraging his disciples that even a small amount of trust in God is enough for God to great things.
….after which he arrives back in Jerusalem (today) – now surrounded by large crowds wherever he goes – and faces four loaded questions from the religious leaders, many of whom are by this time dead set against him. It’s important to note that, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus began his public ministry with four questions from the religious leaders, who at that stage were genuinely baffled by his approach: check out Mark chapter 2, especially verses 7, 16, 18 and 24.
So, here the wheel comes full circle with four more/final questions – only this time, they are not so innocent, rather designed to try and catch Jesus out, and give them a pretext to get rid of him. As we’ll see over the next few days, Jesus is far too wise to get trapped, so eventually they resort to good old fashioned bribery and betrayal to get the job done: but today, their opening gambit is to try and undermine the basis of Jesus’ authority (v28).
Jesus, though, is having none of it, and fires a question right back: was John’s baptism divinely blessed or just human? The Pharisees know they can’t reply without discrediting themselves, so they refuse to answer – meaning Jesus can do the same. It’s Round 1 to Jesus – but there are three more to come! Today, though, with the narrative gaining intensity as Jesus moves towards Easter, let’s give thanks for how brilliant Jesus is. We often underestimate his intellect: but Jesus is not just the most loving or compassionate human there’s ever been – he’s also the smartest.
And may this brilliant Jesus be all you need today.