Can Jesus teleport? A child asked this at the last church I served. And the response from a nearby pastor was: “Yes. Remember when the disciples were all together in the upper room after Jesus died with the door closed, because they were afraid, and all at once, he stood there among them?” The faith leader was sharing the story of John 20:19 without just citing it.
This child’s question was so great is because it demonstrates a sincere desire to get to know Jesus from within the world the child lives in. The beginning of any relationship is starting with who we are and from there, asking who someone else is. Because Jesus most often doesn’t talk back to us like many of our earthly relationships, we sometimes skip this step. We are tempted to read our Bibles or even just listen to stories about Jesus and never move beyond the Jesus on the pages. We don’t take that extra step of wondering and synthesizing how Jesus fits into our world as we know it. You could say we keep him two-dimensional instead of envisioning and dreaming about how he enters our world. And so, I love the way this question takes something that is very real to the question asker and desires to find Jesus within it.
I love this question because it is bold and thoughtful. This question is risky; it is risky to ask if Jesus has a character trait that we think a superhero would have. Because if he doesn’t, we will, at the very least, be disappointed to some extent and have to work through that disappointment if we plan to remain a follower of Jesus. It’s risky to take something we love and seek to find it in someone else. Many of us don’t even begin to risk the thought that Jesus may not live up to something we want or think him to be. And it is thoughtful to consider something outside of reality and to question whether God in human form just might have the ability to transcend that reality. Maybe the child who asked this question didn’t use that language, but she was sure using some critical thinking to come up with such a question.
The faith leader’s response to this question is clever, concise and certain. Big, bold, thoughtful questions deserve big, bold, thoughtful answers — and probably all faith leaders have been guilty from time to time of short-changing a big, bold question with an inadequate, even if correct, answer. This faith leader did not need to take a lot of time to respond to this particular question. But, when the right answer doesn’t quickly come to us (as faith leaders), we need to be willing to give the question the time and processing it deserves and ask for more time. While it would have been correct for the responder to say, “Yes, Jesus can teleport, because Jesus was God on earth, and God can do anything,” this would be a theoretical answer to a concrete question. It is one more step in thinking critically to take a concrete question and search the historical evidence for a concrete response. And, I likely remember this question-and-answer exchange because of the details provided in the answer.
My favorite question and response in ministry was all about observation rather than action. I observed and listened to this sacred interchange between child and faith leader, and in doing so I learned some valuable lessons about theological questions and answers. Big, bold, thoughtful, relationship-based questions deserve thoughtful, clever, concise, theological answers. And perhaps theology is even more compelling when it isn’t theoretical.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.