The Question Game

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 12
June 20, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: It's annoying when someone repeatedly responds to a question with another question. Try it sometime, but only if you want to be considered an irritating and egotistical boor, or evasive and non-responsive. Yet, in today's gospel reading, all of the spoken words between Jesus and his disciples are questions! What's going on?

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead . This is the title of a Tom Stoppard play which later was made into a movie, and is itself a direct quotation from the last act of Shakespeare's Hamlet in which the English ambassador makes the announcement:

Tell him his commandment is fulfilled,
That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead .1

The play, an absurdist farce about nothing, was first performed about 25 years before Seinfeld began its 9-year run on NBC.

In Stoppard's play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with time on their hands, decide to play a game of "Questions" in which a conversation ensues consisting of nothing but questions. Each statement must be a question and must be answered with another question .

Evidently, this is a real game. It was once a featured routine on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Scoring is by fouls. The person with the fewest fouls wins. Players are scored with a foul if they fail to reply with a question, or for undue hesitation, for grunts like "Huh?", for repeating a previously asked question or for a non sequitur - a question that has nothing to do with the conversation.2 Here is some of the text:3

G: What in God's name is going on?
R: Foul! No rhetoric. Two-one .
What does it all add up to?
Can't you guess?
Were you addressing me?
Is there anyone else?
How would I know?
Why do you ask?
Are you serious?
Was that rhetoric?
Statement! Two-all. Game point.
What's the matter with you today?
Are you deaf?
Am I dead?
Yes or no?
Is there a choice?
Is there a God?

Let's leave Stoppard's script and go to the play in the gospel of Mark - today's reading. In this mini-drama in which the winds are howling, the waves are high and the boat is pitching, the occupants of the little craft seem to play a game of "Questions." Notice that the conversation between them consists of nothing but questions . Jesus asks two questions, and the disciples ask two questions.4

The interaction is interesting on many levels, not the least of which is that in the fury of the tempest, Jesus challenges his frightened followers - and us - to be committed disciples and people of faith .

So what are the questions?

Do you not care?

The first interrogative is posed collectively by the terrified disciples. "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" One can imagine them screaming all at once.

Let's not be too harsh: their boat was small and the storms on the Sea of Tiberius were notoriously fierce. Northeasterly winds often come howling down through the hills of the Golan Heights creating a violent sea with deadly waves. In 1992, 10-foot waves hit Tiberius, pouring water into its downtown streets.5 And the boat! Visitors to the Yigal Allon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar in Israel are surprised when they see the so-called Jesus Boat, or Ancient Galilee Boat from the first century. It's a mere 27-feet long and perhaps 7-feet wide. Not very large for a group of fellas and their gear on a dark and stormy night.6

So we can understand their terror when a squall develops on the sea, and then grows into a full-fledged meteorological disturbance. And Jesus was sleeping! Not a care in the world.

Perhaps the disciples had a little meeting. Should we wake him up? Leave him alone?

They wake him. "Do you not care that we are perishing?" they ask. Note that they don't suggest that if the storm continues, they might die , or that conditions are so bad that if measures are not taken they will then die.

No, they're dying right now . "We are perishing." They are in the process of dying, and their "Teacher" evidently is unconcerned about their welfare. "Do you not care?"

Have we, like the disciples, ever asked this question?

Of course we have! And here's why: It's a perfectly reasonable question to ask.

When we're in the depths of despair, when our hearts are broken, when life has become a burden- it's natural and very human to feel that we're alone. Even people of faith might think that God is sleeping on the job.

The disciples asked a reasonable question. And almost all biblical heroes did so as well. The psalmist David certainly did. In Psalm 13, he writes, "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?"7

David was not the only person who asked, "Do you not care?" Joseph surely had moments of doubt while suffering in prison. Think of Abraham on his way to Mount Moriah with his son, Isaac. Or Moses trying to lead Israel to the Promised Land. Or Elijah, Daniel, Jonah and Jeremiah.

John the Baptist also played the Question Game: While in prison, he sent word to Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"8

And wait! Even Jesus asked this question, "Do you not care?" Well, those are not his exact words. While on the cross, Jesus asked: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Yes, you have asked this question, too. We all have. And it's a very reasonable question.

But it is also a question to which Jesus himself responds.

Why are you afraid?

Jesus asks the next two questions in our text for today.

The first of the two is: "Why are you afraid?" Jesus sounds distressed and perhaps a little bit hurt. After all, the disciples had witnessed the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, the casting out of demons and cleansing a leper10; they'd seen him heal a paralytic11; and he healed a man with a "withered hand."12 They'd already listened to him teach and watched him pray. And remember, they had decided to leave their families, friends and careers to follow Jesus!

Yet now, they have doubts. It's like they'd never been with Jesus; that they didn't even know who he was.

Like the disciples' question, Jesus' response is also a reasonable question. "Why are you afraid?" Could we really have doubts if we truly knew Jesus - if we really had experienced Jesus as the Son of God, "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers - all things have been created through him and for him"?13

Yes, indeed! Why are we afraid?

Have you still no faith?

But Jesus is not done yet. "Have you no faith?" he asks.

This question cuts to the heart of things. Our fears and doubts mean that we're lacking in faith. Clearly, we're out of faith. We've hit bottom. We're lashing out. We're dying. We're terrified. We think that Jesus doesn't care. We're faithless.

Yes, we are. Might as well admit it. Jesus knows it; we know it too. In fact, Jesus wonders if the disciples ever had faith: "Have you still no faith?" he asks (emphasis added).

This actually is good news. Even though our faith is lacking, this need not be a permanent condition. In fact, one gets the feeling that Jesus expects faith to be born or reborn in his new disciples soon. Perhaps Jesus is surprised that faith is slow in arriving, but Jesus knows that the faith of the disciples will grow.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

The disciples ask the last question in this "Question Game" of our text. When Jesus calms the sea, and when the disciples realize that they're not going to "perish," they relax, and then they talk among themselves, "Who in the world is this guy?"

Perhaps Jesus pretends not to hear their questions. But he smiles, maybe nods. Faith is growing.

We, too, will come to that moment in our crisis, when we will say, "Who then is this?"

The answer is: This is Jesus, the One who calls us to follow and obey. If he truly commands the wind and the sea, we have no choice but to follow. The storm tests our commitment and our belief system. But if we see now that the figure in our small, tempest-tossed boat is the Lord of the heavens and earth, we have no option but to bow and to swear our devotion as disciples. We will follow Jesus; we will obey; we will learn; we will carry out our mission wherever he sends us.

The popular worship and praise song puts it like this:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?

The response, according to the song, is another question: "Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?"
Yes, it is.
Yes, it is you. It is I. It is we.
We have seen the Lord in the boat. We will bear his light to the world.
No more questions. Questions asked and answered.