What Are You Looking For?'

Book cover
The Questions of Jesusby John Dear

Image Books/Doubleday 336p $12.95


This book applies a singular approach to the study of the Gospel. By searching out and using the questions Jesus asked during his ministry, the author provides readers with topics for Scripture study, contemplation and also, perhaps, action. Father Dear arranges these questions under 19 general themes, including Invitation, Identity, Conversion, Healing and Love. Each section contains a number of related questions, each followed by a reflection on its context, its meaning for Jesus and contemporary meanings for the reader. According to Father Dear, Jesus’ questions can lead us from self-righteousness to humilityfrom domination to servicefrom condemnation to compassion, from blindness to vision. For those interested in further study, an appendix lists the questions according to the Gospel account in which they appear.

This is a book that serves up real spiritual sustenance, as well as challenges, by presenting the reader with new ways of looking at and listening to the questions of Jesus. It needs to be experienced slowly and prayerfully, with an open mind and heart. Also, it is important to acknowledge that Father Dear’s ardent commitment to nonviolence and world peace is a strongly woven motif. The wisdom of such religious guides as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Bishop Oscar Romero and the Buddha are entwined throughout the volume. But because many things are seen here through the prism of nonviolence, Dear’s vision may be somewhat myopic.

The author is a Jesuit priest, retreat leader and peace activist currently living in New Mexico. He is also the author of more than 10 books, including Living Peace; Mary of Nazareth, Prophet of Peace; and Jesus the Rebel. In addition, he has edited a number of volumes on peace-related themes.

Dear explains that Jesus has a question for everyone he meets, for every occasion, for every experience, for every potential disciple. He asserts these questions are important, because by listening and opening our hearts to them, we can open ourselves to the healing and wisdom of Christ. One of the key questions in the book is Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? But people rejected peace then, as they do now. In Jesus’ day, the ruling authorities of the Roman Empire, as well as their religious counterparts, the Pharisees and Sadducees, disregarded Jesus’ invitation to peace, because they benefited from injustice and wanted to maintain the culture of violence.

It does not seem so very different today, according to Dear. By referring to current trouble spots around the globe, he challenges us to respond, not as American citizens, but as followers of Jesus. He claims, for example, that the parable of the Last Judgment invites a national examination of conscience. And if we knew that Christ was present in the poor, we would not support the wars, weapons, corporate greed and government systems that keep the poor and oppressed poor and oppressed. I am sure many readers will be unsettled, if not irritated, by these assertions.

Dear espouses a radical Christianity, loving Christ and following his instructions without regard for the consequences. He himself has been arrested more than 100 times for nonviolent protests. Not only are we to do as Jesus said and did, to love our enemies and do good to them. We are also to espouse an entirely new economic, political and social reality, one in which people’s main interests are the needs of others. If we as individuals are willing to respond to Jesus’ call for repentance by allowing him to disarm our hearts, Dear claims, it will lead to the disarmament of the world, one heart at a time. These are wonderful, thrilling thoughts, which may be dismissed by some as naïve. Yet Father Dear’s sincerity is so palpable and his convictions so passionately held, they make one hope.

I must note, however, a few unsettling points. One is the author’s virulent anti-establishment position, particularly as it relates to the United States government. For example, associating tyrants like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini with Reagan, Nixon and Truman seems misguided, to say the least. Another problem is word choice; for example, the author uses the term Son of Humanity rather than the common title Son of Man that Jesus uses to describe himself. Also, there is the consistent use of the word God in reference to the Father. This particular use can give rise to a confusion that Jesus is either not God or less than God. More problematic is the depiction of Jesus and his friends as drunkards, making spectacles of themselves at the wedding feast of Cana. For some readers, such depictions may not matter. For others, they constitute scandal.

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