A faith unafraid of questions

A faith unafraid of questions Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Jem Sullivan

August 27

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 22:19-23
Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
Rom 11:33-36
Mt 16:13-20

Artificial intelligence and language processing tools like ChatGPT are changing the face of education today. Teachers are finding new ways to evaluate what their students truly know. Instead of superficial questions that can be answered easily by artificial intelligence tools, teachers must engage their students in personal reflection and critical thinking that cannot be substituted by a machine, no matter how intelligent it might be!


In the Gospels, Jesus is called “teacher” close to fifty times. As a master teacher, he spoke personally to large crowds, small groups of disciples, and the religious and political leaders of his day. And whenever Jesus taught, he pointed not to abstract, speculative truths that one might easily gain from an “intelligent” computer. Rather, Jesus invited his listeners into the living mystery of God, his heavenly Father. All of Jesus’ words were meant to lead his disciples, and us, closer to friendship with God.

Jesus was a convincing, persuasive teacher because his words and parables could not be separated from his life and identity.

In Catechesis In Our Time, Pope Saint John Paul II observed, “the whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching: his silences, his miracles, his gestures, his prayer, his love for people, his special affection for the little and the poor, his acceptance of the total sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of the world, and his resurrection are the actualisation of his word and the fulfilment of revelation”.

Jesus, the master teacher, opened a new pathway of faith in his divine identity and saving mission. His most effective teaching method was the use of questions, as we read in today’s Gospel. Yet Jesus’ questions were not delivered as a teacher’s final exam or surprise quiz but as invitations to a radically transformed life in him, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus’ first question elicited various public opinions circulating about him in Caesarea Philippi. Some assumed he was John the Baptist, others thought he was a prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah. Jesus does not stop at these superficial responses. Rather Jesus invites his disciples, and us, to deeper reflection with a personally meaningful question, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter responds with faith acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. His profession of faith becomes the foundation of the Church’s response of faith in the divinity of Jesus.

We might say this Gospel passage contains the central question of the New Testament. Everything depends on how I answer this fundamental question of Jesus. For what I believe about Jesus’ identity is the most consequential truth of my life. How I respond personally to the question that Jesus poses to me – “who do you say that I am?” becomes the foundation of my Christian faith.

The spiritual life is a lifelong journey of faith in Jesus who desires to guide us to know and live in the transforming mystery of who he is. Every disciple is faced with Jesus’ question, “who do you say that I am”? For the wisdom to respond with lifechanging faith in Jesus, the master teacher, we pray, “speak to me, Lord”.

Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.