“What would you like me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)
Did Jesus not already know? Surely He must have—He’s the Son of God, after all. Doesn’t God know all things anyway? And besides, what about that verse that says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8).
The answer, of course, is yes. If Jesus is the Son of God, “light of light” and “very God of very God,” then we believe He knew what the blind beggar, the Son of Timaeus, was asking when he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” So why would Jesus ask a question the answer to which he already knew?
Maybe experience can shed some insight.
Sitting at the counter in Huddle House a few weeks ago, a good friend asked a question of me. “So you’ve lived here in Arkansas for almost three years now. Anywhere you’d still like to see?” I thought for all of three seconds. “Oil Trough.” His head cocked back in curiosity, he asked, “Oil Trough?”
“Well, before we moved here,” I began, “I learned that my great-grandmother’s family lived in Oil Trough before they moved to Alabama, where I grew up.” My friend, who has an avid interest in old cemeteries and history, then said, “Well, you know, Roy grew up there.” I must confess: despite a lot of good conversations with Mr. Roy over the past three years I did not know, and it made me begin to wonder what else I didn’t know. So that night in church, I shared my new discovery with Mr. Roy, who was delighted to tell me all he knew about Oil Trough, Arkansas, and his family connections to this obscure town of yesteryear. Turns out, we might just be related. Who’d have known?
That experience planted a question in my mind: what else is there to learn about people by simply asking questions? And how many people would be thrilled to know someone was interested in listening? How many relationships could be initiated by being curious enough to ask a simple question? If we revisit Mark 10 in this light, perhaps we’ll see it differently.
What if Jesus had relied on His omniscience, never asking the question, already knowing the answer? He certainly could have healed Bartimaeus without all of the commotion and without holding up his journey to Jerusalem for the Passion Week. No one—possibly not even Bartimaeus—would have ever known that God in the flesh had answered his prayer. But had He done so, Jesus would have lost something. By asking a question and then listening to Bartimaeus’s response, Jesus established a relationship with Bartimaeus that would not have existed otherwise. Even more, He helped Bartimaeus begin a journey with God: “immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way” (Mark 10:52)—Mark’s way of telling us that Bartimaeus became Jesus’ disciple. What a miracle wrought by a simple question!
Jesus’ way strikes me as profoundly relevant for our own day. To paraphrase an author whose name I no longer recall, “The greatest barrier to getting to know other people is the assumption that we already know everything about them.” What if our idolatrous grasp at omniscience with regard to other people—their motives, their intents, their experience of being in the world, the true meaning of their words—is the root of all the polarized, black-and-white, “either/or,” grid-locked perspective that characterizes our country? As dismal as it sounds, therein lies a seed of hope.
The same writer went on to share the value of curiosity as a way of getting to know other people—the value of simply asking questions, just as Jesus did. Surely Jesus knew. But in setting aside his “omniscience” momentarily, at least long enough to be genuinely curious, He brought light where before there was only darkness: through a question, a blind man began to see. Similarly, by asking questions, we too may begin to see. We may get to know people as they are, not as we assume them to be. And, miracle of miracles, like Bartimaeus we may also find Jesus passing before our now seeing eyes under the guise of those who once sat across the aisle. Yes, God still walks among us, perhaps waiting, longing, for someone to seek him by daring to ask a question.
Matt Burleson is Minister, Choctaw Church of Christ