The inter­est Jesus takes in oth­er peo­ple helps them dis­cov­er for them­selves their deep­est longings.

I had just fin­ished teach­ing a con­fer­ence ses­sion and was clear­ing my papers from the podi­um when a par­tic­i­pant approached me. Rick was a high­ly engaged attendee with a ten­den­cy to inter­rupt speak­ers with refu­ta­tions. I was grate­ful he’d wait­ed until the end this time, but I braced myself for a challenge.

What do you think the Apos­tle Paul meant by that phrase in the last verse?” he asked.

I felt a wash of relief. He was touch­ing on an oft-debat­ed pas­sage I’d spent some time study­ing. This was a ques­tion for which I was ready. I list­ed the best-known inter­pre­ta­tions, assess­ing the strengths and weak­ness­es of each.

When I fin­ished Rick nod­ded and walked away. I turned to my hus­band Mark, who had watched the exchange. I faked wip­ing sweat from my brow. How’d I do?”

Mark gave me a hug. You did great, hon. Except you for­got one impor­tant thing.” My heart sank. Which inter­pre­ta­tion had I missed?

Here’s what he was look­ing for. He was hop­ing you’d ask him: What do you think?”

I want­ed to dis­miss Mark’s obser­va­tion, but instant­ly knew he was right. Rick want­ed to artic­u­late his own insights much more than he’d need­ed to hear mine.

Still I won­dered, wasn’t it my respon­si­bil­i­ty to offer my per­spec­tive any­way? Mark is a coun­sel­lor. Ask­ing the right ques­tions and attend­ing to the answers are the keys to his work. But I was at the con­fer­ence as a teacher. So shouldn’t I be teaching?

I was slat­ed to present again the next day, and the pas­sage I’d cho­sen was about the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 – 35). That after­noon, going over my notes, I was struck afresh by the story.

Two peo­ple are walk­ing the sev­en-mile road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, speak­ing in low, heart­bro­ken tones. Three days have passed since the hor­rif­ic cru­ci­fix­ion of Jesus of Nazareth. They can’t believe they allowed them­selves to place their hopes in Him. And they can’t believe it all came to such a humil­i­at­ing, trag­ic end.

Some­one else joins them. As read­ers, we have the deli­cious insight of know­ing this man is the res­ur­rect­ed Jesus. But the trav­ellers have no clue. Jesus joins their con­ver­sa­tion. And where I might expect Him to clear His throat and announce His iden­ti­ty, He does some­thing dif­fer­ent. He asks not one, but two questions.

What are you dis­cussing togeth­er as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces down­cast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, Are you the only one vis­it­ing Jerusalem who does not know the things that have hap­pened there in these days?” What things?” he asked (Luke 24:17 – 19).

Read­ing the pas­sage I knew my hus­band would smile at Jesus’ patient approach – His insis­tence on get­ting the trav­ellers to name their doubts and speak their hearts. And as much as I was tempt­ed to see the exchange as an iso­lat­ed moment of nar­ra­tive irony in the Emmaus sto­ry, I began to notice a strik­ing pat­tern in Jesus’ inter­ac­tions with peo­ple through­out the Gospels.

To the would-be dis­ci­ples trail­ing behind him, Jesus asks, What are you look­ing for?” (John 1:38 NRSV)

To the lawyer seek­ing a def­i­n­i­tion of neigh­bour from the law, Jesus inquires, How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26)

To the friends grap­pling to under­stand whether Jesus might be the Mes­si­ah, he says, Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

And of the dis­abled man at the Pool of Bethes­da, Jesus asks, Do you want to get well? (John 5:6)

Jesus seems to be employ­ing more than a rab­bini­cal, rhetor­i­cal flour­ish or a Socrat­ic teach­ing method. A gen­uine curios­i­ty marks every inter­ac­tion. And the inter­est He takes in oth­er peo­ple helps them dis­cov­er for them­selves their deep­est long­ings — and real­ize those long­ings lead to Him.

The day I gave Rick all the cor­rect” answers was the day I began ask­ing some new ques­tions. What would hap­pen if we who fol­low Jesus start­ed inter­act­ing with peo­ple more like He did? What might change if we became known more for our lis­ten­ing than our speak­ing — more for our curios­i­ty than our didacticism?

What do you think?

First pub­lished in Faith Today (Jan/​Feb 2018) and used here with per­mis­sion of the author.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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