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Hermeneutic of Worship Language
Understanding Communion with the Whole of God

Chapter 3      The Language of Communion



The Emergence of Communion Together

Equalized by Relational Grace

Communion with New Wine

Communion's Family Language

"Don't you know me yet?"

Developing Communion Language







printable pdf of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index




Don’t you know me yet,

even after I have been among you such a long time?

                                                                                                            John 14:9, NIV


The way into direct relational connection has not yet been disclosed

to them as long as the old worship framework is still standing.

                                                                                                              Hebrews 9:8




            During Jesus’ earthly ministry, certain persons responded to the relational language of Jesus’ call to them to “follow me” to become his disciples. Yet, it is important to distinguish discipleship with Jesus from the common rabbi/teacher-student relationship prevailing at that time, which was based on roles status. Being Jesus’ disciple involved the primacy of relationship together only on Jesus’ terms, which Jesus clearly indicated in his paradigm for those who wish to serve him (Jn 12:26). In this primacy of relationship, his followers engaged (not without struggle) in the qualitative “whole immersion” experience in Jesus’ relational language in order to know Jesus intimately (i.e. eventually) as they underwent inner-out change in relationship together; this experience went beyond a total immersion (e.g. total immersion for learning a foreign language) for outer-in acquisition of only referential information about Jesus. This relationship with Jesus composed the relational progression that deepens from being disciples to friends, and into the relational belonging in the Father’s very own family (Jn 15:14-15; Mt 12:48-50)—the relational progression essential for reconciled relationship with God as the new creation family together. As evident from the early disciples, the relational progression does not take place unilaterally or automatically, but rather vulnerably involves reciprocal relational work composing our response that is consonant with God’s relational call to us in only relational language.

As persons responded to Jesus’ call to follow him in relationship together, they invariably found themselves sharing meals at table fellowship with him and others. These table fellowships were distinguished experiences for Jesus’ followers in the primacy of relationship with Jesus, not only as individuals but also corporately in what often countered the sociocultural-religious norms. The Gospel narratives of these table fellowships don’t contain much dialogue for us to listen in on, yet God’s relational language embodied by Jesus’ whole person can be heard in distinct, clear tones. As we listen in, with the language lens of God’s relational language, there comes increasingly into audible range God’s relational messages ongoingly and unmistakably communicating the desire of God’s heart for intimate communion with us—inseparably as individuals and corporately together in the new covenant as his new creation family. Jesus’ table fellowships don’t merely provide us with narrative details about Jesus’ life; more significantly, they illuminate for us the integral relational dynamics of communion together, whereby our language of Communion must by its nature be composed to be consonant and congruent with Jesus in ongoing communion together.

In this chapter, we listen to Jesus’ relational language (spoken and expressed without words) with persons at his table fellowships composing the following relational dynamics to establish persons in wholeness from inner out: God’s relational grace, which is extended to persons in the new covenant relationship, the relational process of which establishes persons together as the new creation family for the ecclesiology of the whole and, thereby, as a relational outcome only, our ecclesiology of worship. The relational significance of table fellowship with Jesus therefore goes far beyond the limited interpretations merely of acceptance and inclusion, for example, of marginalized persons into church membership. While we listen to Jesus’ relational language, keep in mind how Jesus embodied the three issues for practice that are vital for us to grow in his language: (1) the integrity of the person he presented, nothing less and no substitutes; (2) the quality and integrity of his communication, notably his relational messages; and (3) the depth of involvement with which he engaged in relationships with persons.

As we listen to Jesus in these contexts, and at his last and pivotal table fellowship just prior to the cross, he will bring to fulfillment (though not yet completion) the significance of his table fellowships. This is a critical convergence integral to interpreting the significance of our involvement in the primacy of relationship for communion together, both with God and each other. We need to understand his last supper through the lens of the new creation family that he initiated during those earlier intimate gatherings over shared meals, in order to partake of his life compatibly so that we will participate congruently in life together in relational likeness of the whole of God.


The Emergence of Communion Together

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke narrate a number of instances when Jesus shared meals with disciples, tax collectors, sinners, a leper (Mt 9:9-13, par. Mk 2:14-17, Lk 5:27-32; Mt 26:6-13, par. Mk 14:3-9), and Pharisees (Lk 7:36-50, 11:37; 14:1-24). John’s Gospel concentrates on Jesus’ table fellowship with his closer disciples (Jn 12:1-8, and chapters 13-17), focusing more deeply on Jesus’ vulnerable involvement in self-disclosure in those interactions, particularly at their last supper together (Jn 13), which extended into his conclusive relational language integral for composing his family (Jn 14-17). Before examining what persons experienced at these table fellowships, some background of the sociocultural context during Jesus’ time helps to give fuller context to the significance of the integrated relational dynamics that converge at Jesus’ table fellowships.

In the prevailing sociocultural context of the Mediterranean region, the table fellowship of sharing meals was a common expression of acceptance, friendship, intimacy, and belonging.[1] Given that the region was home to numerous deities, shared meals were part of sacred rituals signifying the relationship between humans and their deities. The Israelites also observed a temple/tabernacle cultic practice of sharing a meal with God—the practice of peace offerings (šelem, also called the “fellowship offering,” Lev 7:11-15, 32-33). For this shared offering, the worshiper brought an animal to be sacrificed, a portion of which was given to God, and the rest to be eaten by the priests and worshiper(s). Very detailed regulations were followed pertaining to ceremonial purity of the sacrifices, the priests and worshipers for this shared meal (indeed for all the various sacrifices and offerings), which apparently were enjoyable celebrations expressing thankfulness to God. In effect, with these offerings the Israelites “shared a sacred meal with God as a sign of their acceptance by him through the sacrificial act,”[2] and was celebrated only occasionally.

Yet, by Jesus’ time, the Pharisees had reshaped Judaism’s cultic practice by turning every meal into a sacred one, and their strict outer-in emphasis on purity had relational consequences, as noted by Christian liturgy professor Paul Bradshaw:

They were very careful about not only what they ate (so as to observe the dietary laws prescribed in the Old Testament) but also with whom they shared a meal, since table-fellowship with those regarded as impure would compromise their own ritual purity. It was for this reason that Jesus’ behaviour scandalized many of his contemporaries, since, although apparently claiming to be a pious Jew, he ate with the outcasts of society—tax collectors and sinners.[3]

Levi (Matthew) was one of these tax-collectors who were reviled and rejected as traitors in the Jewish community for serving the Roman government. Tax collectors were also known to cheat citizens for their own gain. We can imagine that Levi was strongly and deeply affected by both his involvement in this job and the hatred from his own people; he knew he didn’t measure up in the comparative process of the prevailing religio-cultural context, and thus very likely felt he was less and ashamed about his person. The relational language that flowed from Jesus to Levi is vital for all of us to embrace for our own (individual and collective) identity formation as Jesus’ followers.

Equalized by Relational Grace

When Jesus called Levi to “follow me” (Lk 5:27-28, par Mt 9:9, Mk 2:13-14), Levi responded without apparent hesitation, got up from his collection booth, “left everything” (v.27) and followed Jesus. Levi then hosted a great banquet for Jesus and his disciples, which was also attended by many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors as well as other sinners. What happened in Levi that he seemingly left his job to follow Jesus on impulse?

Jesus’ call to Levi was no arbitrary act, no relationally-detached imperative to a person considered as ‘less’ by all prevailing standards. Jesus saw Levi’s whole person, and called him to a new level of involvement into his very own relational context (unique to the whole of God). “Follow me” beautifully communicated Jesus’ relational language to Levi that expressed along with these words the following relational messages (noted in the previous chapter): (1) what Jesus says about himself—you can count on me to be whole-ly involved with you for the deepest relational connection together; (2) how Jesus feels about Levi—I see your whole person from inner out, you are important to me and I want you (not what you can do for me); (3) how Jesus feels about relationship with Levi—I want to share in intimate relationship together, for you to participate in my life! From the moment Jesus approached Levi, Jesus engaged him with his whole person—nothing less and no substitutes—because nothing less and no substitutes is the only way the whole and holy God is present and involved, which is the integral basis for interpreting Jesus’ relational language with the above messages.

And Levi conjointly received Jesus’ person, obviously deeply touched in the qualitative depth of his heart (the “eternity” substance that God has planted in all of our hearts, Ecc 3:11), and reciprocally responded with his whole person. It is critical to recognize that for relational connection to be made, there has to be reception of the other’s relational communication. And since God never engages in relationship unilaterally, Levi had to have made the deliberate choice to receive Jesus and respond back to Jesus. This response required involvement on Levi’s part to open his own heart to Jesus in order to vulnerably receive Jesus’ whole person extended to him for relational connection—that is, the level of intimate involvement requiring hearts vulnerably opening to one another. To do this, Levi had to risk disregarding the constraints from his human context, both his job that defined him as ‘less’, and also the religio-cultural barrier that as a tax collector (a sinner) he could not eat together with a rabbi. Like Mary’s unconstrained and determined responses to Jesus (mentioned earlier), Levi made the choice to respond to Jesus’ call to him to leave the old behind, and to step into the new of Jesus’ relational context to be relationally involved together with Jesus. When we get beyond referentializing Jesus’ words and the situation, we can see that Jesus was composing the primacy of new relationship together in wholeness. Levi’s further response illuminates this emerging communion by hosting Jesus at a banquet, a celebration which Jesus’ compared to a wedding feast (Lk 5:34).

Illuminated definitively in Jesus’ relational involvement with Levi is the dynamic of God’s relational grace—that is, Jesus’ relational involvement with persons that reaches deeper than our reductionist outer-in criteria (defining our person by what we do and have) into our hearts, signifying our whole person. God’s relational grace herein redefines the person from inner out, thereby to be restored to wholeness, in the qualitative image of God. At table fellowship with Jesus, Levi certainly deeply experienced Jesus’ whole person openly and vulnerably extended to him for relationship together. Only on the basis of this relational grace, Jesus intruded on Levi’s life to pursue Levi’s whole person for intimate relationship together. In this way Jesus communicated in his relational language to Levi that he was forgiven and redefined from inner out, for relationship together. For Levi, who was relegated by his human context to be less in a comparative process, to experience Jesus’ person extended specifically to him in God’s family love transformed him beyond human explanation, for he became one of Jesus’ main disciples from then on. This is the relational outcome of how God’s relational grace functions in order to make us whole, yet whole only in intimate relationship together on God’s whole relational terms.

The relational dynamic unfolding with Jesus is integral to both our understanding and practice of communion composed by Jesus for his new creation family, the church. Jesus’ intrusive relational involvement freed persons like Levi from their ‘old’ way of defining themselves by secondary criteria from outer in, particularly by what they did and had (reductionism), and thus believed about themselves in fragmented identity. God’s relational grace does not see and define persons according to human-shaped distinctions based on outer-in criteria, nor engage in relationship according to those criteria, but, importantly, renders impotent all human-shaped distinctions and the conjoint comparative process determining persons as ‘better’ or ‘less’. And by redeeming us from the influence of both those human-shaped (i.e. false) criteria to define persons and the comparative process, the relational barriers and distance caused by those distinctions are also removed (cf. Eph 2:14-16). The relational outcome is the equalization of persons from inner out before God and with each other (cf. Gal 3:26-28; Col 3:10-11). God’s relational words to Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9) speaks loudly and clearly of relational grace as the only basis and ongoing base for persons to be whole and relationships made whole together in the process of equalization. Levi’s experience of Jesus’ table fellowship signifies the equalizing of all persons in relationship before God as well as in relationships together so that no one could be considered better or less than anyone else. Moreover, relational grace’s demand for honesty and openness of hearts, no hiding of all that one truly is, opens the way for the relational connection of intimacy—the only connection the Father seeks in worship (Jn 4:23-24).

What Levi experienced in relationship together with Jesus at table fellowship illuminates relational grace as the only alternative to the sin of reductionism and its counter-relational influence (i.e. the human condition of relational distance or separation). God’s relational grace transforms human persons and relationships to be both equalized and intimate; the transformed nature of equalized and intimate relationships is the outcome only of God’s relational grace. Therefore, wherever the church maintains unequal and/or distant relationships (even when our words speak otherwise), then something other than God’s relational grace is defining us and determining our function and our so-called communion together. The only alternative to God’s relational grace is from our own shaping, which could emerge from our tradition, culture, or efforts in self-determination.

Beyond Levi’s experience at table fellowship with Jesus, all we otherwise know about Levi is that he became one of Jesus’ main disciples. Yet his significance in that first recorded table fellowship illuminates how Jesus’ relational grace equalized not only Levi and that specific group of persons, but signifies that all of us who follow Jesus need to be equalized by his relational grace in order for the intimate relational connection of communion together to emerge. To be clear, it wasn’t table fellowship itself that constitutes the experience of relational grace, but only the relational involvement of Jesus’ whole person for this relational connection. Table fellowship, however, is a wonderful metaphor for the equalized and intimate relationships together that compose relational communion as the new creation family constituting God’s relational whole. And it is as this family in communion with the whole of God that composes the Communion the church needs to recover beyond mere referential language to get to the depths of Jesus’ relational language. Nonnegotiably, only relational grace can be our basis for relationship with God and our ongoing base for equalized and intimate relationships together as family, to compose the language of communion and Communion (discussed shortly) that has relational significance to God—and that has relational significance for us, not merely religious significance.

The grace of God constitutes God’s relational action solely initiated by God for the specific purpose of relationship together, not in unilateral terms but in reciprocal relational terms composing relationship together in wholeness—the relational outcome of God’s relational action of grace. The relational dynamic of God’s relational grace, however, tends not to be sufficiently understood, which gives us a clue as to why relational distance (intentional or unintentional) persists in God’s church based on the human-shaped distinctions noted in the previous chapter (e.g. clergy-laity, race, ethnicity, class, gender, age). The reverse is also true: the presence of any relational distance points to our insufficient understanding of God’s relational grace, even though in our theology we are saved by grace (the contradiction of Eph 2:8 and 2:14). Grace has been reduced to less than its relational significance by our interpretive framework linked with referential language. We dissonantly define grace in either highly spiritualized generalities, for example, grace is the gift of God himself (e.g. Barth and Rahner[4]), which is true only on the basis of the ongoing relational outcome composed by God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement in direct relationship with us. Along with de-relationalizing grace, we also reduce relational grace down to quantitative terms as some spiritual gift working unilaterally (enacted by the Spirit). Or grace becomes merely about what God does for us, such as giving us desired outcomes in situations, or as endurance for a hard and long ordeal, as in “there but for the grace of God….”

Conventional theological explanations about grace taught in church and academy come largely from the influence of the Reformation: God’s saving grace is God’s unconditional love by which we have been justified before God through Jesus’ sacrifice; grace is also the prevenient force that mysteriously makes our hearts ready to receive God; and grace enables the believer to persevere obediently in the Christian life. This Reformed lens fails to perceive Jesus’ relational dynamics that embody (e.g. for Levi at table fellowship) who and what God is, and thus which fragments God (however unknowingly) from how God does relationship. The unintended result is that God ends up enacting relationship unilaterally (cf. determinism), with a primary focus on what God does for me; and our response is therefore what we do for God: to acknowledge God, give thanks and glory to him, and even be joyful, all enacted, of course, by grace in matter-of-fact referential terms. Yet, if we haven’t received Jesus’ relational language vulnerably, and his relational grace has not redefined our person from inner out to be whole, then our response cannot be compatible and reciprocal; and these expressions cannot be made other than referentially from outer in, at a relational distance—composing only sounds of dissonance in God’s ear. In your experience, for example, how joyful from inner out is the church?

In this reduced view of God’s relational grace, human relational responsibility is diminished in order to preserve God’s sovereignty, his place of authority; the alternative is not to suggest Arminianism. Certainly God is sovereign and authoritative. However, we are wrong to thus minimize his call to “follow me” in the primacy of reciprocal relationship in discipleship and render it to a less-than-relational response primarily about serving. The critical point we need to understand about God’s sovereignty and authority is that our response is compatible only on his terms, the relational terms of the whole and holy God. Mary and Levi’s relational responses conclusively illuminate for us the nonnegotiable reciprocal response to compose the communion of worship that has relational significance to the whole and holy God of relational grace. Any other basis is from our shaping in self-determination (even in the theological task) that always signifies what we do or have, and thus, without question, ends up focused on me, while even acknowledging God’s grace.

The following two excerpts from a study of the integration of Jesus and Paul help deepen our understanding of God’s relational grace and its irreplaceable function for us to relationally know God as it counters reductionism:

Grace emerges in God’s relational dynamic with nothing less and no substitutes for the face of God in thematic relational response to the human condition from the beginning, though most notably in the incarnation (cf. 2 Cor 6:1-2). The face of God not only sent light to shine on us but came in person as the Light (Jn 1:4; 3:19; 12:46); and the Face was vulnerably present and relationally involved, distinguished “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Grace and truth are not mere static attributes of Jesus’ innermost substance, nor are they mere resources he can give as a gift, the gift of grace. The OT often renders the terms “grace and truth” in combination as “steadfast love and faithfulness” (cf. Ps 25:10; 40:10; Prov 16:6), which always involves covenant relationship. In these terms defined from relational language and not referential language, grace is interchangeable with steadfast love and always defined in the dynamic of relationship. Therefore, grace is not a mere gift to claim as our possession but the definitive relational response initiated by God to distinguish the whole ontology and function of the face of God, who is vulnerably present and relationally involved just for whole relationship together. Grace is inseparable from relationship in God’s relational dynamic and on this basis is integral both for the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition and for the relational outcome of whole relationship together (cf. Isa 42:5-6).

The functional reality of God’s relational response called grace is distinguished solely by the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement with persons in the human condition for the integral purpose not merely to redeem (deliver, save) them from their condition (i.e. for a truncated soteriology) but only for the relationships together necessary to be whole, God’s whole family on God’s relational terms (the full soteriology, Jn 1:10-13). Only when grace is restored to its proper relational language can grace be distinguished and clearly emerge as distinguished love in relationship. And, while in a very limited sense this can be considered unconditional love totally initiated by God, unconditional love is still perceived in comparative terms in the same category of all love which also includes conditional love. Unconditional love is certainly special in this sense, but that is inadequate to distinguish love and thus grace.[5]

It is impossible for us to be in relationship with the transcendent and holy God, who is ontologically distinct from humanity. Yet, God accounts for this difference between us by the initiative of his relational grace. God thereby has made himself whole-ly vulnerable and directly accessible to us, embodied first in Jesus and now continuing in the Spirit for Face-to-face intimate relationship together. Relational grace makes it possible for us to be in God’s presence without the need for a veil, just as relational grace makes it possible for God to be in our presence with the curtain no longer between us. Functioning in relational grace, Jesus openly and vulnerably involved himself with us for relational connection (Jn 1:14). His whole person (enacted in his body and blood) constituted, and continues to compose, the communion of transformed relationships (both equalized and intimate) that conclusively distinguishes his new creation, the church.

Intrinsic in relational grace are God’s relational messages, as noted in Levi’s experience: the unspoken relational language of how he feels about us, about our relationship, and that we can count on him to be whole-ly present and involved in our relationship together. Yet, God’s grace did  not merely tear open the curtain for God to come out to us; grace also necessitates our whole person in compatible reciprocal response, to leave behind the old in order to enter behind the curtain and have the veil removed for relationship together with the holy God face to Face (Heb 10:19-22). Unlike the implications of the Reformed view, we have ongoing relational responsibility in the matter of grace that makes a certain demand on us, for which God holds us accountable: “The truth, which we don’t always grasp theologically, is: grace demands honesty of my heart and doesn’t allow me to be anything other than my real, true self (weak, fallible, sinful) with God—and eventually with others.”[6] Without this demand of grace, our response is reducible and our involvement is negotiable to terms other than God’s, with the relational consequence of having a relationship without relational connection.

Grace’s demands have always been God’s relational terms for covenant relationship (old and new) with him—nothing less and no substitutes for our whole person—and is the only compatible response to the vulnerability of God present and involved with us now through the Spirit. It is the qualitatively distinguished response specific to and required by the nature of God’s embodied relational action toward us that tore open the curtain for the covenant relationship of love with the whole and holy God. Yet, the reality is that “this vulnerable way into direct relational connection has still not been opened to them as long as the old remains in operation” (Heb 9:8).

Communion with New Wine

I don’t know if my imagination is going too far, but I picture the transformation that Levi underwent, and imagine Levi’s excitement. In response to Jesus’ call to him, Levi appeared totally new, “left everything and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house” (Lk 5:28-29). There is some parallel between Levi’s and Mary’s relational responses to Jesus (Mary’s was discussed previously). Like Mary, Levi’s response to Jesus was the choice, affirmation, and celebration in wholeness—rejecting the constraints of being defined and determined on the basis of outer-in criteria (the ‘old’), and stepping into Jesus’ relational context and process for relational connection together to be redefined from inner out, notably with the qualitative involvement of his heart (the ‘new’). Both Mary and Levi demonstrated the rejection of the old that is necessary in order for the new to emerge, the death and the rising that we share in with Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom 6:5-8).

Indeed, the interaction that took place during Levi’s celebration for Jesus illuminates the contrast and even conflict between the old and new. Some persons (John’s disciples or other persons) asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t fast, as did John’s disciples and the Pharisees; Jesus’ disciples ate and drank, implying the primacy of new relationship together enjoyed in the context of table fellowship (Lk 5:33-38; Mk 2:18-22; Mt 9:14-17). Jesus answered in three metaphors about the incompatibility between giving primacy to outer-in constraints (e.g. the templates of tradition) on persons and relationship together (the ‘old’) and giving primacy to whole persons and relationships (the ‘new’): fasting and mourning with the bridegroom at a wedding banquet, putting a new cloth patch on an old coat, and putting new fermenting wine into brittle old wineskins. Jesus then illuminates the emerging new order that new wine must be put into new wineskins—that is, whole persons celebrate life together in the primacy of relationship just as Jesus ongoingly engaged in with his disciples, tax collectors and sinners. Yet he added at the end (in Luke’s version) that some persons prefer the ‘old’. This last comment speaks to the status quo of the ‘old’, and is critical for us to recognize today, particularly considering our worship traditions (past and contemporary), and thus whose language we use—referential language from our shaping or God’s relational language. The old maintains relational distance in its communion, even when its language speaks with innovative reference. By its nature, however, the new cannot be limited to or constrained by relational distance and that which prevents the flow of communion together.

Both Mary and Levi expressed the new wine as they were deeply changed from inner out, having rejected the old constraints on their person from their human context in order to respond to the whole of Jesus’ vulnerable presence and involvement. In wholeness of their person from inner out (as in tāmiym), both Mary and Levi responded with nothing less and no substitutes from the secondary, but only in the primacy of relationship with Jesus (in ṣĕdāqâh). Their lives illuminate the new wine put into new wineskins, and the true worshipers the Father seeks for intimate relationship together.

            Another unlikely person who illuminates the new wine emerging and flowing is the former prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet while he was reclining at table fellowship in a Pharisee’s house (in contrast to the above table fellowships, Lk 7:36-50). She is a moving example of a person very much fragmented, a relational orphan rejected by her context based on her occupation. Yet, Jesus didn’t define her from outer in, as Simon the Pharisee obviously did. Instead, Jesus saw her whole person from inner out—signified by the qualitative function of her heart. He thus openly received her in what was no doubt the only way she knew how to give of herself—drenching Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissing them, wiping them with her hair, and rubbing perfume on them. In Jesus’ involvement with her, she experienced relational grace and reconciliation signifying her forgiveness. Having been thus forgiven much, she responded back to Jesus with her heart freely open and vulnerably given to him with the intimate involvement of love. Like Mary and Levi, this woman had to reject any constraints from her human context (how she was defined, and thus what would have kept her at a relational distance), to step into Jesus’ relational context to worship him so vulnerably. Jesus and she shared intimate relational connection because she reciprocally responded to him compatibly with how he was present to and involved with her. The relational outcome highlights for us the depths of communion together that Jesus composes to be experienced in our innermost.

            Jesus’ final words to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v.50), are Jesus’ further relational words integrating faith and salvation with the wholeness (peace) of communion together. Biblical faith is our compatible and reciprocal response to Jesus’ whole person with relational trust in vulnerableness like the relational trust of a child, with nothing less of our person and no substitutes from outer in. With such childlike trust is how this woman drew near to Jesus: she relationally trusted Jesus, for example, that he wouldn’t push her away as she washed his feet. She must have expected negative reaction from some of the other people present, yet that anticipation didn’t prevent her from giving herself to Jesus.

Being “saved” (sōzō) means to be redeemed and healed and made whole in God’s relational context and process, going beyond our limited view about salvation, which often stops short at only what we are saved from (sin), in a truncated soteriology. For our salvation to be complete, we need to fully understand what we are saved to—relationship together in the family of the triune God, which means by its nature to be whole and in the transformed relationships (both equalized and intimate) necessary to be whole as God’s new creation family, in full soteriology. On the basis of this relational reality, we can now experience belonging as daughters and sons to the family of God, the church, integrally functioning in God’s relational context by God’s relational process of family love. This distinguished experience of belonging is the significance of adoption, not the idea or an illusion, but the experiential reality of what we are saved to. “Go in peace,” is about wholeness (šālôm), as this vulnerable woman experienced being made whole in relationship with God, pointing back to God’s definitive blessing to establish his people in wholeness (Num 6:26). The woman was no longer defined from outer in, nor did she let anything from the outer in constrain her, but as a whole person she loved Jesus freely from her heart inner out. Such communion together would likely raise some questions in our gatherings (at it did for Simon), and easily make us feel uncomfortable—even as we affirm Christ’s salvation and celebrate Communion.

Mary, Levi, and the former prostitute illuminate for us what composes the new wine of relational language in worship that is consonant to God’s ear. Their responses in celebration and worship were direct, vulnerable, intimate and unambiguous about whom they loved, not the indirect and/or generalized responses of referential language. Moreover, their compatible reciprocal responses reflected being made whole in ‘whole immersion’ together with Jesus from which emerges and flows the new wine. Jesus received them with affirmation of their whole persons, a clear indication of how their worship stands in contrast to Peter’s worship (discussed in the chap. 2), which was indirect and ambiguous because in place of his inner person (his heart) he offered the substitute from the secondary. Peter’s worship, we recall, was ambiguous as to who it really served, and which accordingly received no response from either Jesus or the Father. Peter’s difficulty stemmed from his resistance to God’s relational grace, which became clearly evident when Jesus was about to wash Peter’s feet. The relational implications of Peter’s communication to Jesus are imperative for us to understand for our communion together with Jesus, and are discussed in the last section of this chapter.

It is also critical for our own ‘communion with new wine’ to understand how Jesus’ vulnerable involvement with persons was enacted for the relational progression to adoption for the incomparable experience of belonging as God’s daughters and sons. Adoption into God’s new creation family needs to be received and embraced as the functional outcome of God’s relational grace and family love, for the relational significance integral to Communion that can no longer be dismissed or simply ignored as a mere theological concept. To illuminate this relational dynamic, Jesus’ involvement at table fellowship with another tax collector, Zacchaeus, is such a story of God’s family love that adopts persons as his very own. And understanding Zacchaeus’ story extends its meaning to us as well. Will we vulnerably receive Jesus’ relational words to us through Zacchaeus’ story, to establish us also in the formative communion together with new wine, the nature of which composes us integrally for Communion to be the true worshipers that the Father seeks?

Communion’s Family Language

The good news of the gospel is unmistakably embodied by Jesus’ intimate involvement of family love extended to a man named Zacchaeus. Integrated with Levi’s story of having been equalized by God’s relational grace, Jesus’ relational involvement with Zacchaeus illuminates God’s further relational dynamic to “adopt” persons as his very own sons and daughters, into his new creation family—implied in “because he too is a son of Abraham” (Lk 19:9). The relational outcome of adoption is the emergence of the new creation family together, the significance of which composes our language of communion, and which needs to transform our language of Communion to be congruent with this distinguished relational outcome.

Zacchaeus, like Levi, was reviled by his people for working for the hated Romans; also, Zacchaeus was most likely engaged in even worse behavior than Levi, being a rich chief tax collector (Lk 19:1-10). Like Levi, Zacchaeus was marginalized or rejected in his community. The narrative in Luke’s Gospel further notes that Zacchaeus was also short in stature, which no doubt compounded the negative perception and treatment of Zacchaeus as less, and rendering him as a relational orphan. Zacchaeus’ story is well-known, notably for climbing a tree in order to see Jesus who was going through town. Jesus, in clear relational language, called him by name and communicated directly to him, “I must stay at your house today,” thus inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ home (v.5). Zacchaeus’ relational response, likely mixed with anxiety, received Jesus with joy into his home, which surely then involved table fellowship. By using the imperative “must” (dei, meaning necessary by the nature of something, not merely from obligation or duty, opheilō), Jesus communicates his relational purpose to “stay” (menō, to remain, to dwell) with Zacchaeus. What defines the nature of Jesus’ purpose is the relational response of grace to establish his new creation family through adoption—which involved God’s relational process of family love. This dynamic process required Jesus’ redemptive work of reconciliation, signified in Communion, and is the distinguished relational outcome not just for Zacchaeus but for all of us to hear, receive and respond to.

Jesus’ involvement with Zacchaeus sings the relational language of the Trinity's family love. Jesus embodied this family love as he extended his whole person vulnerably to a man who was defined and determined by his human context as less—from his occupation (which included defrauding others) and his physical stature, and who lived with this stigma and rejection by his religio-cultural context at Jericho. The relational outcome of Jesus’ family love for Zacchaeus at table fellowship emerged even more distinctly than in Levi’s story. And as with Levi’s story, it is critical to recognize the conjoint relational process necessary for relational connection: Jesus vulnerably extended his person to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus made the choices in compatible reciprocal response necessary by God’s relational terms to complete the relational connection, thereby composing the language of communion together clearly in family language.

In spite of the grumbling by persons who saw that Jesus was staying with such a sinner (v.7), Zacchaeus did not hide who and what he was and had done, but “stood there” before Jesus and openly took responsibility for himself. Zacchaeus vulnerably made himself accountable to Jesus, and in the process of being transformed, he evidenced his repentance by giving half his riches to the poor and paying back fourfold to anyone he had defrauded. Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus was with his whole person, redefined from inner out by the relational grace and family love that Zacchaeus received in Jesus’ whole person—nothing less and no substitutes. The relational significance to Jesus of Zacchaeus’ response is evident in Jesus’ affirmation: “Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” (vv.9-10). To “save” (sōzō, to redeem, heal and make whole) is Jesus’ relational action to conjointly redeem persons from the sin of reductionism (fragmentary persons in the human relational condition ‘to be apart’), and redeem them to wholeness from inner out for relational belonging to the whole of God’s family. Jesus indicated this relational belonging to God’s family by his words calling Zacchaeus “a son of Abraham.” Jesus doesn’t mention Abraham merely as Zacchaeus’ historical ancestor, but to link Zacchaeus’ whole person redefined from inner out with the wholeness (tāmiym) and righteousness (ṣĕdāqâh) that compose God’s covenant relational terms, and which Abraham’s whole person functioned in (cf. Rom 4:11b). By implication, then, being a son of Abraham meant being a son of God on the whole and holy God’s covenant relational terms of grace. The critical issue for us to understand is who and what composes persons’ identity as ones who belong in the whole and holy God’s family—that is, only whole persons functioning compatibly and reciprocally in relationship with the whole and holy God on God’s relational terms; no biological or historical heritage, or any other outer-in criteria can constitute experientially us as God’s daughters and sons.

Jesus’ relational language deeply affirmed Zacchaeus for responding in relational trust (faith) to Jesus’ vulnerable involvement—that is, on this basis of relational grace reciprocally responding in the wholeness and righteousness of a son (or daughter) of God. We need to pay attention to the relational dynamics here; we need to “listen to my Son,” as the Father makes imperative for us today. The Father seeks persons to be his daughters and sons in intimate family relationship, but we cannot experience and thus relationally know our Father if we do not listen to the Son’s relational language, as when we try to engage him at relational distance by presenting anything less or any substitute for our whole person from inner out.

Jesus’ further relational words—“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (vv.9-10)—disclosed his irreducible relational purpose for coming into the human context, not as teachings or announcements about God in referential language, but only for the relational reconciliation of persons into his own family (cf. Jn 3:16-17; 17:3). All of God’s self-disclosures in our human context go to this relational purpose, and will continue toward this purpose to its eschatological conclusion. Accordingly, in the arc of God’s thematic relational action in all of human history, God made strategic, tactical, and functional shifts—shifts that illuminate the full significance of ‘God with us’, communicating directly to us in self-disclosures with God’s very self to respond to our human relational condition ‘to be apart’ as relational orphans.[7]

God’s strategic shift was enacted in the incarnation of the Son to replace the physical sacred place (e.g. mountain, tabernacle, temple in Jerusalem) that, until the incarnation, mediated connection with God (see Jn 4:20-26). With this strategic shift, Jesus disclosed to the Samaritan woman, “the hour is…now here” when worshipers could engage directly with God’s vulnerable presence to be whole-ly known—nothing less and no substitutes—to anyone who would vulnerably receive and respond to him in compatible reciprocal relationship “in spirit and truth” (cf. Jn 1:12). The relational connection between God and worshipers was no longer limited to an outer-in physical place or, by implication, mediated by priests making physical sacrifices; now, in Jesus’ vulnerable presence, God and worshipers could share intimately together, Face to face behind the curtain, and without the veil (i.e. any relational barrier, Heb 10:19-22; 2 Cor 3:16-18). Yet, as noted earlier, this intimate relational connection and outcome are contingent on the old worship framework no longer remaining in operation (Heb 9:8).

Jesus’ intimate table fellowships marked God’s tactical shift, in which Jesus embodied relational grace to redefine persons like Levi and Zacchaeus from inner out to be whole, which also had to include the transformation of their perceptual-interpretive frameworks. No longer constrained in their persons and relationship by being defined and determined by their human contexts, Levi and Zacchaeus were equalized in their innermost in intimate relationship with Jesus. Their experiences illuminate for us the relational progression of discipleship—from disciple to friend to relational belonging in God’s family.

Importantly, in his interaction with Zacchaeus, Jesus’ relational language discloses the deepening in relational progression from friends to relational belonging in God’s very own family, which by necessity now includes the reciprocal function and responsibility of son and daughter. Yes, table fellowship among friends is meaningful, but it is also only temporary, for all such participants simply go their separate ways afterward. New wine table fellowship with Jesus, however, signifies relational belonging permanently as sons and daughters as members of God’s family (cf. Jn 8:35; Eph 2:19). In functional terms, Zacchaeus specifically illuminates someone who experienced relational progression to now belong in God’s family through God’s relational action of adoption. Jesus enacts the purpose in the Trinity’s salvific plan to adopt Zacchaeus into his very own family (cf. Eph 1:5), with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities that naturally-born children have (cf. Jn 1:12-13). Jesus’ intimate relational involvement at table fellowship with Zacchaeus and others like him took them deeper in relationship together in experiencing this process of adoption, thus enacting the functional shift of the whole of God’s relational involvement with them.

Being adopted into God’s very own family signifies a relational reality that deeply surpasses a mere official social identity, or even a religious identity. Adoption needs to be fully understood as the experiential truth of Jesus’ intimate involvement with persons that relationally establishes them with the Father in the new creation family. This understanding leads to knowing the Father as our own, the reality now possible because, as Jesus said, “if you really knew me you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:7, NIV)—which essentially means that to know Jesus in intimate relational connection is to know the Father, and to see Jesus is to see the Father unmistakably as “Abba, our Father” (cf. Rom 8:15-16). Jesus hereby composed the experiential reality for persons to now belong through adoption into the family of God in distinguished contrast to the prevailing human condition of relational orphans (cf. Jn 14:18). All the relational dynamics that Jesus embodied in God’s strategic, tactical and functional shifts are the relational communication in God’s relational language only for communion together, in the trinitarian process and relational language of family love (the depth of agapē beyond sacrifice). God’s relational involvement in his thematic relational actions—for full soteriology that definitively declares what we are saved to—are summarized as follows:

The Father sent out his Son, followed by the Spirit, to pursue those who suffered being apart from God’s whole, reaching out to them with relational involvement, making provision for their release from any constraints or payments to redeem them from any enslavement; then with this relational connection, taking these persons back home to the Father, not to be mere house guests nor to become household servants, but to be adopted by the Father and thus permanently belong in his family as his very own daughters and sons.[8]

Adoption, therefore, is no mere theological metaphor but the relational outcome and experience of redeemed and reconciled persons in the primacy of intimate communion together functioning as the new wine in new wineskins—namely, as God’s new creation family. Our adoption into God’s family is the relational experience in full soteriology, the relational dynamics of which are summarized by Paul (Eph 1:4-14). Paul’s letters also unmistakably emphasize that Jesus’ relational grace to establish us ‘in Christ’ together removes all the relational barriers erected by human contextualization that shapes persons and relationships (defining and determining us from outer in, in the comparative process, Eph 2:12-14; Gal 3:26-28; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11). God herein responds to the human relational condition ‘to be apart’—the relational consequence of our autonomous efforts in self-determination—for the redemptive reconciliation of persons to himself and to each other, for the intimate and equalized relationships necessary for persons to be made whole even now in likeness of the whole of God (as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:21-23). This is the ultimate outcome of the relational process to be consummated fully at the “eschatological relational conclusion of God’s thematic action”.[9] Reconciled relationship together as God’s new creation family whole-ly (i.e. beautifully) fulfills God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26) along with God’s relational words in Isaiah:

“So is my word, that goes out from my mouth [peh];

     It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

     and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11, NIV).

Jesus’ whole person is this very word embodied who has accomplished this relational purpose.

            The functional shift and relational implications of having been adopted by the Father into his very own family may seem beyond what can be experienced as church, given today’s normative church practices in worship and, in particular, of Communion. Yet we would not feel wary or skeptical had we truly listened to the relational language of the Son, as the Father has made imperative for all of us (Mt 17:5). Had we been vulnerably listening to and receiving Jesus’ relational words all these centuries since Jesus first embodied them—that is, listening with the relational vulnerability and hermeneutic of a child (Lk 10:21; Mat 18:3-4; cf. Jn 5:39-40)—Jesus’ relational language at table fellowship (indeed throughout the incarnation) would have clearly resounded in our ears specifically as God’s family language; and we would long for this intimate involvement together, not passively as objects in faith but in reciprocal response as daughters and sons. Most prominent are Jesus' frequent references to the Father—“my Father,” “our Father,” and “your Father” (e.g. Jn 5:17; Mt 6:9; Jn 20:17)—just as the Father calls Jesus “my Son” (e.g. Mt 3:17; Mk 9:7). This family language of communion composes us in the relational likeness of the Trinity and cannot be denied without denying the relational ontology of God (cf. Jn 17:20-26; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). And because this triune God has adopted all of Jesus’ followers, we are now composed together as family members belonging to each other, including belonging with Jesus as our brother (Mt 12:48-50, par Mk 3:34, Lk 8:21; Jn 20:17; cf. Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11). Jesus’ relational language is indisputably God’s family language that communicates all the relational messages from God’s heart to us.

Like adoption, therefore, “family” is no mere theological metaphor. If we truly believe in God’s self-revelation in the incarnation, and affirm the authority of the Word, then we are challenged, if not confronted, to vulnerably receive and respond to Jesus’ family language. Our corporate worship gatherings certainly would not be characterized by the primacy of secondary outer-in matter and relational distance, as often as our gatherings are. Nor would our celebrations of Communion be administered in referential language, resulting in the all-too-common perfunctory, overly individualized and relationally distant, joyless affairs that we call Communion—signifying something less than our participation in Jesus’ life and our common share in Christ, the koinonia distinguished vulnerably by his whole person.

            In a further necessary relational movement in the whole of God’s thematic relational action, Jesus further disclosed the ‘whole of God’ at his final and pivotal table fellowship—notably who the Spirit is and why the Spirit is here. As Jesus prepared his disciples for when he would return to the Father, he focused on their persons deeply, seeing them from inner out, and addressed what was still needed for them to be brought fully into God’s family, not in theory, but in whole function together. Jesus’ impending departure deeply troubled the disciples (Jn 14:1, 16:22). Even though the disciples had not fully understood Jesus or deeply connected with him (to be discussed in the following section), they had experienced at least some level of the intimate communion signified by Jesus’ table fellowship. For them to anticipate Jesus’ departure—including his predicted death—left them sad, anxious, and afraid to lose him (which Jesus assured them he knew), thus to once again find themselves in their previous condition of relational orphans before he had relationally intruded on their lives. Jesus then promised, “I will not leave you as relational orphans” (Jn 14:18, NIV); he promised the Spirit to come to them in his place. The Spirit, Jesus said, is “another encourager” (allos paraklētos). Allos (“another”) means another of equal quality, of the same kind, and paraklētos is one who encourages, comforts, exhorts, and advocates. Jesus therein promised the Spirit as Jesus’ equal relational replacement, “to be with you forever” (v.16), to be present and intimately involved for reciprocal relationship together, just as Jesus himself had been with them (v.17 with v.6). The important relational implication for us to understand here is that the depth level of our involvement with Jesus (using a relational lens) directly translates into the depth level of our involvement with Spirit. Just as Jesus’ relational imperative requires our compatible and reciprocal response of our whole person with Jesus, so is the relational imperative for our involvement with the Spirit.

            Jesus makes clear to the disciples this relational imperative for their compatible reciprocal response (14:15, 23a), the relational involvement necessary to experience the whole of God further and more deeply through the Spirit’s relational communion with them. The Spirit’s communion with them composes this relational reality: “we [Father, Son and Spirit] will come to you and make our home with you” (v.23b). Therefore, as Jesus returned to the Father, the Spirit, as Jesus’ relational replacement, would now be vulnerably present and intimately involved with them (and us), just as Jesus was during his earthly ministry—the significance of which is illuminated in Jesus’ table fellowship. In the economy of the Trinity, the Spirit now assumes the central function of the communion of God’s family, and his presence and involvement should not be constrained by an overly christocentric focus, even as the church family partakes of Communion (2 Cor 3:16-18).

The relational dynamics of Jesus’ table fellowships thus integrally compose the definitive experience of communion together for the adopted daughters and sons who belong permanently in the triune God’s very own family. This whole and solely relational understanding of the communion taking place at Jesus’ table fellowships provides the qualitative-relational lens needed to understand the full significance of Communion. Therefore, only Jesus’ table fellowship is the hermeneutical key for interpreting the language of Communion. God’s enactments for relational reconciliation in the trajectory of his thematic relational actions—relational grace, the new covenant, and the new creation family—all converge in Jesus’ new wine table fellowships (illuminated by Mary, Levi, the former prostitute, and Zacchaeus). Furthermore, the reality of the Spirit’s presence and involvement with us today must also correct the church’s current language of Communion that has ignored God’s ongoing presence and vulnerable involvement with us as his new creation family, so that Communion indeed engages this relational significance both with the whole of God and us all together.

Most of the church’s language of Communion today focuses narrowly on Jesus’ Last Supper. More specifically, the typical language of Communion gives primacy to his ‘words of institution’ as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s Corinthian letter (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25). We typically align his words about his body and blood/cup of the new covenant primarily, if not solely, with his sacrifice on the cross. This alignment is not incorrect, but this by itself reflects an inadequate referential interpretive lens that ignores the primacy of relationships as family together that Jesus established integrally by all his table fellowships. In other words, our language of Communion needs transformation (translation by whole immersion) into the language of communion together as God’s new creation family, not just theologically but in our practice as the church. Thus, while Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples has until now been the primary constituent for our language of Communion, we cannot continue to let that limited practice remain the status quo, as comfortable as the status quo is (as many of us well know!). We cannot adequately understand nor respond with new wine to Jesus’ words of institution for the new covenant uttered at that final table fellowship apart from the whole significance of Jesus’ table fellowships—during which he embodied the new covenant in communion with new wine up until then. Therefore, Jesus’ new wine table fellowship is the hermeneutical key for interpreting the theological and relational function of Communion for the church as God’s new creation family—the function of transformed relationships together, both equalized and intimate with the veil removed.

On this basis, I suggest that we drop that phrase ‘words of institution’ altogether since they reflect a Communion in referential language —practiced either as Eucharistic tradition from the outer-in, or as an overly individualized and inward-looking time of self-examination. We need to restore Jesus’ words to their functional meaning composed by the triune God: ‘formative family language’. This transposing would help us make the vital connection with Jesus’ prayer at his final table fellowship recorded in John’s Gospel. His prayer has traditionally been called ‘the High Priestly Prayer’, but relationally and functionally what it communicates is more correctly heard as Jesus’ ‘formative family prayer’ (Jn 17). In this prayer, the whole of God’s relational response of grace converges to constitute all of Jesus’ followers as family together in relational likeness to the Trinity.[10]

This latter discussion about Jesus’ language brings us back to the issue of whose language we use for the Word: God’s relational language that communicates the whole person from inner out, or referential language from human contextualization that communicates a narrowed-down or fragmented person from outer in. The latter creates and maintains barriers (even unintentionally or unknowingly) to relationally knowing God, that is, creates a hermeneutical impasse. As mentioned earlier, this hermeneutical impasse is the relational consequence from reductionism, the most formidable opponent to wholeness in our person and our relationships. For our deeper communion with the Trinity, it is crucial to understand further how reductionism present in the disciples prevented them from knowing Jesus, reflecting how they defined their person (and thus defined Jesus) from outer in, in spite of having been with Jesus for three years and participating in those table fellowships.


“Don’t you know me yet?”

            Deeply knowing Jesus in intimate relationship was not an automatic outcome for Jesus followers because their engagement of Jesus often didn’t make relational connection with him. The Gospel narratives tell us of Jesus’ frustration with the disciples; specifically, the disciples often didn’t understand Jesus’ relational language (“Do you still not perceive or understand?” Mk 8:17), and they didn’t pursue him for that understanding (Mk 8:14-16; 9:32, cf. Jn 4:27). Their lack of understanding resulted from the relational distance they kept (“are your hearts hardened?”). The disciples still functioned with their outer-in interpretive lens focused on referential language: their eyes failed to see, their ears failed to hear (v.18). The relational consequence is that they could not receive Jesus in his relational language, creating a hermeneutical impasse, and therefore they didn’t deeply know him. This hermeneutical impasse is highlighted in key interactions that took place at Jesus’ final and pivotal table fellowship (Jn 14:1-9). We have much to listen to and learn from these interactions for our own communion with Jesus to relationally know the whole of God, and thus to transform our language of Communion in worship together as his new creation family.

            “Don’t you know me yet?” (14:9) are Jesus’ poignant words to his disciples at Jesus last table fellowship with them. Jesus was preparing the disciples for his impending return to the Father; and the disciples were anxious and afraid about his leaving them (Jn 14:1,27b). A moment earlier Jesus had shared with them that because they knew him they also already knew the Father (v.7). Yet, as if they weren’t listening to these last words, Philip interjected “show us the Father” (v.8). Indeed, as if not listening is how their interpretive lens worked, thus missing Jesus’ relational language, not just here, but all during Jesus’ time with them. Even with their dedication to follow him, they strained to relationally connect with Jesus at the depth level of communion together to intimately know Jesus’ whole person (not just his teaching and miracles), and, consequently, they didn’t yet relationally connect with the Father, much less know him. For this relational connection to unfold was directly contingent on their old practices no longer remaining—a nonnegotiable term for relationship with the whole and holy God (Heb 9:8).

Could it really happen that the disciples, who had been with Jesus for three intense years together, didn’t know Jesus? As Jesus’ main disciples, they undoubtedly had been present at all of Jesus’ table fellowships, at which they had directly experienced Jesus’ person, nothing less and no substitutes, and his vulnerable relational involvement with them. They heard Jesus’ relational language ongoingly in what should have been ‘whole immersion’, given the primacy of relationship that is Jesus’ relational imperative for his disciples. Moreover, the disciples also witnessed how Jesus engaged with many other persons in a wide variety of situations (cf. Jn 14:10-11)—persons who responded to Jesus in loving worship, persons who rejected and persecuted him—as well as many improbable miracles that he did in their presence.

Most significant of all, more than any of the above, the disciples witnessed firsthand Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father. Jesus had openly revealed their relationship, as John’s Gospel summarized: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (exēgeomai, denotes leading someone out into full view, thus to make known, Jn 1:18). Jesus had not come into our context to disseminate information about the Father in referential language. It was only in Jesus’ whole person communicating in the relational language of his intimate communion with the Father that Jesus disclosed their relational oneness, their inseparable and irreducible oneness, in other words, the whole of God.

In so many ways Jesus disclosed this irreducible interrelatedness with the Father by his relational language: “the Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30); “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38); “that they may be one as we are one” (17:20-26). Jesus and the Father are so intimately one, he also disclosed, that “If you knew me you would know my Father also” (Jn 8:19); “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn 12:44-45); “If you know me, you will know my Father also…you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:7). Yet, for the most part, the disciples did not make the relational connection with Jesus to hear and receive all this relational language; in spite of these three intensive years together, which included being present at Jesus’ table fellowships, they did not deeply know Jesus as he expected them to. His words to the disciples (“don’t you know me yet?”) must have surprised them, for among all his followers these disciples certainly must have assumed that they really did know Jesus.

The disciples’ assumption that they knew Jesus had to have been based on the quantitative measures of length of time (chronos over qualitative kairos) they had spent together with Jesus, along with all that they had witnessed him do (e.g. heal persons, calm the sea; the bios of Jesus over his zoe). Any such assumption on their part was now being challenged by the penetrating question “don’t you know me yet?” Likewise, their underlying perceptual-interpretive framework was also being challenged. The issue of assuming we know Jesus is critical for us to examine for ourselves as well; it particularly is critical for church and worship leaders, who have the responsibility for the maturing of the church as God’s very own family, to witness to this depth level of knowing Jesus.

Accordingly, it is vital for us to understand that there are essentially two kinds of knowing, of knowledge—knowledge as information (referential knowledge) about someone, or knowledge from intimate relational connection with someone (relational knowledge), which emerge from our perceptual-interpretive framework and lens we use ongoingly. This distinction is necessary in order to fully understand what Jesus meant when he said he is “the truth” during that same interaction at his pivotal table fellowship.

When Jesus openly disclosed to the disciples, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (v.6), he was speaking in relational language as always. Though these words are familiar to us, it is critical for us to discern more carefully how the disciples (and any of us) understand “truth.” Using a referential lens, Jesus as “truth” is reduced to propositional truth, essentially making him an object to know about or possess, merely as referential knowledge. Propositional truth as object may be important for a belief system; however, propositional truth is never sufficient for the purpose of making relational connection with God, and thus is unable to help us deeply know and understand the whole-ly relational God.

In contrast to propositional truth as object, and even vitally in conflict with, Jesus is the ‘embodied Truth’ only as Subject in relationship together. That is, Jesus’ whole person embodied the Trinity’s vulnerable presence as the Life and intimate involvement as the relational Way only for the experiential truth of communion together, the blessed relational outcome of which is to relationally know God. This is Jesus’ meaning of “I am the truth.” Truth is only about experientially knowing and understanding the whole of God, and therefore its integral function is only to relationally compose us together as the Father’s very own family, not merely to provide certainty for our belief system. God clearly and definitively declared the primacy he gives to this relational outcome in his words in Jeremiah:

Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in what they can do, do not let the wealthy boast in what they have; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me….” (Jer 9:24-25; cf. 1 Cor 1:26-31).

The only boast we can make that has any relational significance to God is that we know and understand God. Any other boast we make is from outer in (e.g. having wisdom, abilities, resources), which both has no relational significance to God, and, as Paul conclusively identified, fragments persons and relationships in the church (1 Cor 1:10-12, 21; 4:6-7; 8:1; 2 Cor 10:12)—all of which addresses, challenges and exposes our underlying theological anthropology.

            The disciples were hereby “exposed” by “don’t you know me yet?” They had not ongoingly engaged with the embodied Truth as Subject on his relational terms. The consequence of their interpretive lens was their hermeneutical impasse, of not knowing Jesus deeply. This hermeneutical impasse speaks directly to the depth level of relationship that the disciples engaged with Jesus (one of the three major issues for our practice, discussed in chapter two). Jesus’ whole person is always vulnerably present and accessible for our compatible reciprocal response from inner out. Thus, for example, as we respond—with nothing less and no substitutes—then intimate relational connection is always made, just as Mary’s response of worship so beautifully illuminates, along with the former prostitute in agapē relational involvement. This necessary level of relational involvement with Jesus’ person in order to know him is what Jesus pointed to with these words: “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get; and still more will be given to you” (Mk 4:24-25). That is, the interpretive framework and lens we use (either outer in, or inner out) is the determining factor for the depth of our involvement in relationship with Jesus (“the measure you give”), and the depth of relational connection made and relationally knowing each other (“the measure you get”). By using a relational lens, we will engage Jesus with our whole person from inner out for ongoing intimate connection with Jesus to know him with increasing depth of understanding (“For to those who have more, more will be given”). However, with a referential lens, we narrow down Jesus to truth as object and remain focused outer in, and thereby at a relational distance (“from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away”); this involvement with Jesus is distant or shallow, and is insignificant or worthless (cf. worship that is “in vain,” Mt 15:9), most notably for knowing and understanding God.[11]

In other words, again, communion together with Jesus is not a unilateral relationship but only reciprocal; and the depth level of our reciprocal involvement with him in order to make the intimate relational connection in the communion composed by Jesus is nonnegotiable by his relational terms of the new covenant. Our communion in relationship as we gather together to worship him, and thus our Communion, need to be composed in the primacy of our compatible reciprocal response with the whole and holy God—nothing less, no substitutes!

During his discourse in a previous setting (Lk 13:22-27, NIV), Jesus had already pointed to the issue of a hermeneutical impasse. In this discourse, Jesus used a parable to illuminate that merely being present at table fellowship with him (“we ate and drank with you,” v.26) does not constitute making relational connection with him (“I don’t know you or where you come from” v.27). Jesus did not, and still does not, assume the level of our relational involvement with him. He knows, on the one hand, when we are flowing with the new wine in communion together (e.g. Mary), as well as, on the other hand, when we give him something less or some substitute from outer in for our whole person (e.g. Peter), often even during our Communion times.

This discussion brings us back to the question raised in the introduction: whose language do we use? If we choose God’s relational language, then, like the disciples, we are unavoidably faced with our need to die to our old way of defining our person from outer in—a reduced theological anthropology from which we then try to engage in relationship with God—and be raised up new and whole from inner out. This is the redemptive change necessary in order to respond compatibly and reciprocally to the embodied Truth of Jesus as Subject for face-to-Face communion together at his table fellowship, without the veil signifying our relational distance. The direct relational connection constituted by Jesus is opened to those who relinquish the old (Heb 9:8).

The indispensable need for redemptive change is clearly evident in one more interaction that took place at Jesus’ final and pivotal table fellowship. This key moment, usually overlooked, movingly reveals Jesus’ vulnerable involvement of relational grace, further unfolding God’s relational response to transform us for the deep relational connection that he and the Father ongoingly seek. The interaction illuminates for us to see clearly the relational dynamics of relational grace for communion in the new covenant and the relational basis for God’s new creation family—relational dynamics which we may often try to avoid because it makes us too vulnerable. This interaction takes place between Jesus and Peter.

At the beginning of their final meal together before Jesus was to go to the cross, Jesus approached Peter to wash Peter’s feet (Jn 13:1-8). Peter refused to let Jesus do so. Why? Peter, we recall, maintained relational distance at Jesus’ transfiguration because he defined his person from outer in; and on that basis, he attempted to worship Jesus with a substitute from the secondary of what he could do indirectly for Jesus, thus avoiding being vulnerably involved with Jesus in face-to-Face relationship. With his outer-in interpretive lens, Peter accordingly related to Jesus on the basis of their socially-defined roles: Jesus was Peter’s master teacher, and thus ‘better’ than Peter in Peter’s comparative process. In Peter’s interpretive framework, it simply was not permissible for Jesus, the Rabbi, to lower himself to the position of a servant and wash his feet. It is critical for us not to perceive Jesus’ actions with a limited interpretive lens that only sees Jesus modeling ‘servant leadership’, because what he engaged in goes far deeper than ‘what to do’, which the servant model gets us to focus on in a primary way. What Jesus is vulnerably and intimately embodying is God’s relational grace that removes all relational barriers—represented here by the teacher-student roles—for the purpose of communion together in transformed relationships, the new wine table fellowship composing God’s new creation family.

Jesus came Face to face with Peter for intimate connection together, and Peter said “Never!” Relationally, Peter’s message to Jesus was a refusal to engage with Jesus on Jesus’ terms for intimate relationship together, but rather to stay within his old constraints (in a reduced theological anthropology) and continue to engage with Jesus on his own terms. Peter was resisting letting Jesus redefine him from inner out, the relational response of grace which would free Peter from the constraints of his old outer-in interpretive framework. Yet Jesus continued to pursue Peter so that the new wine could emerge and flow in communion together: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with [meros meta] me” (v.8). In other words, Jesus told Peter that he must let Jesus redefine his person from inner out by his relational grace (the sole significance of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet) for the primacy of intimate communion together. “Share with me” only involves the relational experience of communion together with Jesus. Various other words signify this relational ‘sharing with’ together— koinōnia refers to the fellowship and participation together that Jesus’ table fellowship embodies and calls persons to (cf. Acts 2:42); koinoneō, to be a partaker in, share together in (1 Pet 4:13);  koinos refers to what is shared in common by several persons (Acts 2:44). Jesus kept pursuing Peter in the relational work necessary for Peter to become whole from inner out; this moving interaction makes unmistakably clear the relational function of grace and family love enacted by the whole of God.

Given Peter’s final reply to Jesus (“not my feet only but also my hands and my
head!” 13:9), his relational posture still reflected his outer-in interpretive lens. Yet, Jesus continued to pursue Peter’s whole person, even after the resurrection (Jn 21:15-23), for the primacy of relationship together, wherein the relational message to Peter continued with the relational imperative to “Follow me!” (Jesus said it twice in this interaction, vv.19,22). This required redemptive change for the ‘old’ to be transformed to ‘the new’, the new wine, the new creation.

Jesus’ main disciples struggled to make relational connection with him, and they incorrectly assumed they knew him. Redemptive change for them was yet to come, and, joyfully, it indeed did. If we acknowledge that we too struggle to make deep relational connection with him, and that we really don’t know him as our hearts deeply desire, then Jesus is kneeling at our feet, ready to respond to us Face to face, to redeem and transform our hearts to make us whole from inner out. He desires intimate communion together, and communion’s relational outcome of knowing and understanding him, the Father, the whole of God.


Developing Communion Language

The language of communion, on the one hand, is an uncommon tongue; that is, it cannot be uttered or translated by what commonly prevails in human contexts, therefore it never develops in our understanding as long as what is common determines our language. On the other hand, the language of communion is not a mysterious language, because it is directly accessible and openly comprehensible to any human person created in the relational language of the Creator (Gen 2:18), and to whoever receives the language of the Word whole-ly disclosed in his vulnerable presence and intimate involvement (Jn 1:1-4, 10-13). And on this relational basis alone, the language of communion emerges in our function and develops in our knowing and understanding the whole of God.

Grace, covenant and ecclesiology of the new creation family functionally converge only in Jesus as Subject embodying the whole of God—who, what and how God is present and involved in relationship. There is no more significant illumination of these integral relational dynamics than at Jesus’ new wine table fellowship. Jesus’ new wine table fellowship thereby critically functions as the bridge between the new covenant and new creation family in the ecclesiology of the whole, without which these aspects of the church’s theology and practice remain fragmented. Moreover, Jesus’ language at his table fellowship is not only relational language but family language of the whole of God, embodied whole-ly by Jesus for our communion together. On this irreducible and nonnegotiable basis, God’s family language needs to transform our language of Communion to compose our intimate relationship together to be relationally ‘one’ in relational likeness of the whole of God—not merely as a theological concept, but as the embodied Truth as Subject constituted with his body and blood and composed with his formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-26).

Jesus continues to pursue us today, just as he pursued his first disciples. Therefore, “Pay attention to what you hear.” The language of communion defines and determines its significance.





[1] See full discussion of table fellowship in the Mediterranean world in S. Scott Bartchy, “The Historical Jesus and Honor Reversal at the Table” in Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, Gerd Theissen, eds., The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 175-183. 

[2] Paul Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship: A basic introduction to ideas and practice (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996), 38.

[3] Paul Bradshaw, 39.

[4] R. Kearsley, “Grace,” in Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright and J.I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 280-81.

[5] T. Dave Matsuo, Jesus into Paul: Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel (Integration Study, 2012). Online at http://www.4X12.org., 43.

[6] T. Dave Matsuo, Following Jesus, Knowing Christ, Chap 2, subsection “The Demand of Grace,” 37-38.

[7] Insightful discussion of God’s thematic relational actions in his strategic, tactical and function shifts is available in T. Dave Matsuo, Jesus into Paul, 158-68; see also Sanctified Christology, 78-97.

[8] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 94

[9] See discussion of the eschatological conclusion, and eschatology as relationship in T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 301-305.

[10] I urge readers to engage in the deeper discussion of Jesus’ formative family prayer discussed in T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology.

[11] To read an important discussion of Mk 4:24-25 as it pertains to theology and theological education, see T. Dave Matsuo, “Did God Really Say That?” Theology in an Age of Reductionism.





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