We have perhaps all had the experience of wanting to open a long-awaited letter and yet hesitated for fear of what it might contain—not the good news we were hoping for but the bad news we dreaded. Similarly, in our interpersonal relationships there can be important questions we wish to ask a parent, spouse or close friend but fearing a negative answer we refrain from asking and in doing so paralyze the relationship, depriving it of trust, openness, and honesty. This is something of what the disciples in today’s gospel were struggling with after Jesus foretold his approaching arrest and execution: They did not understand the saying and they were afraid to question him.
As we know, this didn’t work out too well for them so that when Jesus’ words were fulfilled they were caught off guard, abandoned him to his fate, and underwent a great trial of faith. However, this trial which they endured from Jesus’ arrest until Easter Sunday, highlights instances when questioning can actually be the inappropriate response. This, in turn, highlights two factors at work: fear and faith. Not infrequently, the situations that involve fear have us hesitant and even unwilling to ask questions, whereas those that call for deeper faith often elicit questions which, to our dismay, seldom receive a direct or immediate answer.
An example of the former is avoiding self-knowledge by not asking the kinds of questions that would give deeper insight into one’s spiritual and psychological wounds. This leaves one a stranger to oneself and allows unacknowledged sins, weaknesses, and flaws to complicate one’s relationships. So too, avoiding questions that would assist discerning God’s will for fear of what this might entail, necessarily impedes growth in that divine intimacy without which our hearts will remain forever restless and unsatisfied. And when fear has us, as a monastic community, reluctant to ask the hard questions relating to all that still obstructs our deeper union as a community and our ultimate flourishing, then we are condemned to only distant approximations of this noble goal, rendering our demise all but inevitable.
In contrast, when we are in the throes of deep suffering and spiritual darkness we may find that the questions that urgently arise from within our hearts go unanswered and God seems to be deaf to our pleas. When this suffering and pain is unremitting we may eventually reach a state of such inner confusion and turmoil that we don’t even know what questions to ask anymore. This may have been what happened to the disciples from the time of Jesus’ arrest until they saw him risen on that joyous Easter Day. During that time their inner turmoil, sorrow, and confusion must have generated questions that received no immediate answer. No wonder, then, that when Jesus encountered two of these disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are told that they stopped, their faces downcast. In situations like these it is perhaps time, like Job, to place a hand over our mouths, cease questioning, and summon our faith in God’s goodness and benevolence towards us.
And so we are faced with the crucial task of discerning when we should be asking questions and when we should refrain from questions and exercise God’s gift of faith. Not wanting to know the answer to a question is a possible sign that it is one we should be asking, whereas desperately seeking an answer to a question and not receiving one, is perhaps a summons to deeper faith and trust. For the former we need to trust that God will provide the strength to accept the answer. And for the latter, we need to trust that the day will come when, like the disciples of Emmaus, our hearts will burn within us as the mystery of our suffering and darkness is revealed. And then we will find that in the faith-filled waiting with unanswered questions we have been transformed and no longer have any questions.