Monday, January 09, 2017

What Do You Seek - (Michael Buckley, SJ) - Review

WHAT DO YOU SEEK? The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise. By Michael J. Buckley, SJ. Foreword by Paul G. Crowley, SJ, and Stephen J. Pope. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 2016. Xii + 146 pages.

                While we may have questions for Jesus, he has questions for us as well. If we read the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, we will find Jesus posing questions that challenge companions and crowds. But these questions not only challenge, but they also offer promise (as suggested by the subtitle).  Jesuit theologian Michael Buckley, SJ, has written a book that invites us to attend to Jesus’ questions, and in doing so reclaim the power of language to engage with God in Christ.

The author of the book is Bea Professor of Theology Emeritus at Santa Clara University in California. Before teaching there, he taught philosophical theology at Boston College, Notre Dame, and the Jesuit School of Theology (Berkeley, CA). This is a book that is deeply theological and philosophical, but while it challenges, it remains accessible. It is Catholic (Jesuit), but ecumenical as well.


While the book is rooted in the Gospel of John, a Gospel that too often gets ignored in our search for the historical/human Jesus, Buckley opens with Jesus’ encounter with the priests and religious scholars in the Jerusalem Temple at the age of twelve. He leads with this comment: "these teachers would answer the child; the Sanhedrin, many years later, would not answer the man. But both groups had to contend with the unsettling questions that came to them from Jesus" (p. 4). The question is, are we ready to engage in the conversation? Are we willing to answer the questions that Jesus asks?

The Gospels portray Jesus as a preacher, a teacher, one who speaks. In our emphasis on what Jesus says, we may miss the fact that at times he says nothing, but instead he frames "a question within which a personal disclosure can occur, a question within which an interchange will occur or not occur, a question that those who encounter him must live within the hiddenness of their lives" (p. 5).  Through these questions, Jesus invites the other to look inward and invite one to discover what is already present within one’s self. In the course of this book, Buckley invites us to attend to the questions that Jesus asks, so that we might encounter God in the questions that bring about divine self-disclosure.

Buckley takes note of fourteen questions posed by Jesus, each of which is drawn from the Gospel of John. While that might seem like a lot of questions, Buckley points out that in the Gospel of John, Jesus asks important questions on thirty-five occasions. Thus, Buckley doesn’t cover them all, but, he lifts enough questions to help us attend to the role that questions play in Jesus' ministry. These questions "gradually bring to the surface what meaning life has for those who would hear them, what is the spirit in which they live and which gives their lives meaning" (p. 11). The purpose of the questions is to encourage the reader/listener to ask what God is doing in one's midst. This is, therefore, a devotional book, but one that is deeply rooted in theology and in Scripture.

He begins his exploration of the fourteen questions with the question that forms the title of the book: "What do you seek?" Taken from John 1:35-38, the question is posed to the disciples of John who had heard John point to Jesus, saying that he was the Lamb of God. Jesus wants them to express what it is they seek in him. Why do they follow? Why do we follow? This is, Buckley suggests, the foundational question. The spiritual life is rooted in one’s search for God. But the promise that goes with this question concerns God’s desire to be known.

From this foundational question, we move on through thirteen more questions that range from Jesus' question found in John 13 to the disciples after he had washed their feet: “Do you know what I have done to you?" to the final question posed to Peter. When Peter asked about the fate of the Beloved Disciple, Jesus answers him with another question: "What is that to You? Each of these questions are posed to us, so that we might open ourselves up to knowing and known by the incomprehensible God. Commenting on the question posed to the disciples who are uncertain about his teachings in John 6, Jesus asks them "Do you take offense at this?" The chapter explores the question of belief and disbelief, the fact that despite what they had seen the disciples aren't sure what to make of Jesus. Buckley writes perceptively: "The mystery of God is not that he is unintelligible, but rather that he is so intelligible as to be incomprehensible" (p. 129). In other words, Jesus confronts us with our too small a vision of God. God is always greater than our ability to comprehend.

Having gained in recent years a greater appreciation for the Gospel of John, it was a pleasure to engage that Gospel with Buckley. As did Jaime Clark-Soles, he brought out important insights from the Gospel that speak to our own situations. He did so with an appreciation for the power of language, bringing into the conversation insights that challenged and provoked. In the end, he reminds the reader that even though we want to hear God speak, God sometimes speaks in the form of questions. May the questions posed by Jesus open a path into a future in which we embrace and are embraced by God.

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