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Thursday, July 21, 2016

"What Do You Seek?" (Michael J. Buckley, SJ)

TITLE: What Do You Seek?: The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise
AUTHOR: Michael J. Buckley, SJ
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (160 pages).

Questions set us on a path of learning. They help us discover new things. They are more intriguing than mere answers. They keep the doors of learning open. In fact, Scriptures are full of questions to help us ponder and to wonder about the things of God. Honing on the questions of Jesus, author Michael J. Buckley leads us through a series of 14 questions asked by Jesus in the gospels. These questions if left unanswered can be seen as a direct challenge to rebel against Jesus. If one tries to answer, Jesus often points us to the promise and greater things that are to come. Jesus uses questions like a surgical knife to slice open our stubbornness, and to probe deeper into us on our true motives and true needs. Buckley puts it well:

"A question as such may not provide new instruction, new facts, or new data, however much it might incite a desire for these. The question may actually turn human beings reflexively back upon
themselves—upon the experiences and commitments and beliefs that are taken to be there already but that cry out for understanding and meaning, upon a store of habits, convictions, data, decisions, and challenges. The question takes up what has been a challenge, what has been a sacred charge from the most ancient wisdoms: “know yourself.” For the question asks what is there already, even if unnoticed and unexplained."

Each question presents to us an aspect of Jesus or his teachings; a way that reveals our true needs; and about our fundamental desires in us. They disarm us. They humble us. They point us to Jesus.

  1. "What Do You Seek?" - Reveals our emptiness, our inner longings and our restlessness.
  2. "Do You Know What I Have Done to You?" - Points us toward our awareness, about prevenient grace, and our necessary response in gratitude.
  3. "Do You Believe in the Son of Man?" - learning to trust God in the midst of negative treatment by society.
  4. "How Can You Believe?" - reflection on faith.
  5. "Simon, Son of John, Do You Love Me?" - our need for forgiveness.
  6. "Have I Been With You So Long, and Yet You Do Not Know Me?" - Knowing Christ as our end goal
  7. "What is This to Me and to You?" - a reflection on the progressive understanding of Mary on the need for Jesus, and to open our eyes to see the needs around us. 
  8. "How are We to Buy Bread, So that These People May Eat?" - learning to serve God in weakness
  9. "Do You Not Believe That I Am in the Father and the Father in Me?" - centrality of Jesus and the place of the Church.
  10. "And What Shall I Say? 'Father, Save Me From This Hour?'" - Trusting that God has the last word in everything.
  11. "Shall I Not Drink the Cup Which the Father Has Given Me?" - of perseverance, endurance, and how it spurs a life of prayer.
  12. "Did I Not Tell You That If You Would Believe You Would See the Glory of God?" - on the end times and the glory of God at the end of life; of Christian hope.
  13. "Do You Take Offense at This?" - to cause us to let our hopes linger toward Jesus, to further think about His identity.
  14. "If It is My Will That He Remain Until I Come, What Is That to You?" - It's a powerful reminder that as Peter receives responsibilities, often it is followed by a corrective word or a stinging rebuke.

This is a profound reflection on the questions of Jesus. Bringing in insights from renowned Roman Catholic theologians like John Henry Newman, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, Rudolf Schnackenburg, and others, Buckley infuses their thoughts with his own exposition of the fourteen questions. Like admiring a prism, he takes each question and ponders on the questions behind the question. He brings in relevant themes from the spiritual writers of old, the ancient fathers, the modern theologians, to show us that when Jesus asks a plain question, there is often more than meets the eye. Jesus is most concerned about the hearts of the hearers. Each time, he points them toward truth, more specifically, who Jesus is and what Jesus represents. Buckley even compares this to the parables of Jesus, often shrouded with mystery and multiple meanings, but eventually centering on the Person of Christ and His Work.

I think this is a very unique book that exegetes the questions and turns each question into a powerful challenge and personal call to seek after Jesus more. The questions cannot be taken in isolation. The astute reader should sense how all the questions connect and culminate in the glory of God. Not only that, they plumb the depths of the human heart, to help us locate our own sense of unawareness and things that even ourselves do not readily recognize. Put it another way, when Jesus asks a question, he is not merely trying to get hearers to answer correctly. He is challenging them to seek after the Questioner, and to realize that they are needy people. Each question challenges us on ur own personal spiritual quests. How much do we really love Jesus? How much do we appreciate what Christ has done at the cross? How do we move from nonchalance to eternal gratitude? Where is our hope? How do we progress to the glory of God? How do we see beyond our own personal struggles and to see from God's perspective? These and many more make the book a powerful spiritual challenge for us to go beyond what meets the eye.

Michael J. Buckley is past Bea Professor of Theology at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit priest, and past Professor of Systematic Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley University.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of William B. Eerdmans and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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