In his ministry, Jesus often asks others what they want. For example, he asks the blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) On another occasion, James and John approach Jesus, and he asks them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36) Both in his healing ministry and with his friends, Jesus displays a kind of openness and curiosity toward others.
Until recently, I had never really considered the possibility of a curious Jesus. After all, since Jesus is God, then doesn’t Jesus already know everything that a person needs? Sometimes I have even experienced God seemingly anticipating my needs before I knew them myself. However, in the Gospels, Jesus models for us a way to treat others in our various ministries and relationships.
So I imagine a Jesus who is genuinely curious about others’ desires. Perhaps one of Jesus’ companions assumed from the start that Bartimaeus wanted to see. In this story, that turns out to be true, but it is conceivable that he could have wanted something completely different. So Jesus asks.
Jesus asks James and John what they want, and while they ask for privileged places in heaven, we can guess that their true desires go much deeper. Jesus asks them, “What do you want?” and lets them name their own desires. Perhaps their spoken desire reflects a deeper neediness in them for care, respect, or some affirmation of their relationship to Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t tell them how it is. He waits for them to discover and to discern. By asking a question, Jesus gives people room to grow.
As I head into the academic year and begin to teach a new group of students, I am considering how to stay curious about my students, colleagues, and even my husband, whom I have known for almost 30 years. As I negotiate a newly “empty nest” and learn how to be a mother to my adult children—who no longer need the same kind of care and guidance that they once did—I am making an effort to do more listening and less talking. Too often, I can make assumptions about other’s needs or motivations. When I remind myself to be curious about what another person might be wanting, thinking, or doing, I am better situated to be responsive rather than reactive.
Asking genuine questions that arise from curiosity rather than presumption helps us to be more deeply aware of God’s presence in those around us. Staying curious about others allows us to reverence the mystery of another person. Staying curious gives us room to be surprised by God.