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Hermeneutic of Worship Language
Understanding Communion with the Whole of God

Chapter 4        Liturgy Behind the Curtain



Worship without the Veil

Hermeneutic of a 'Child'

Composing Primary Liturgy







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Table of Contents

Scripture Index



Why is my language not clear to you?

                                                                                                            John 8:43



Since we have confidence to engage in direct relational connection

…by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain

…let us intimately connect with God with our whole heart.

                                                                                                            Hebrews 10:19-20,22




To relationally know Jesus, and thereby to understand the whole of God, is of primary importance to God (Jer 9:24-25); this is the integral relational outcome of communion together in reciprocal relational involvement with him (signified by his table fellowship). Relationally knowing God is also irreplaceable to compose our language of Communion—signifying the embodied sacrifice behind the curtain that relationally removes the veil—in order for our Communion celebrations to have relational significance to God and ourselves as well. Yet, intimately knowing Jesus is not an automatic outcome for Jesus’ followers (as discussed in the previous chap.) because of the difficulty many of us have making relational connection with Jesus, like the first disciples. This is the critical issue underlying Jesus’ question above. If we have difficulty relationally connecting with God, then we cannot deeply know God’s heart (i.e. deeper than referential information) and thus our worship cannot have relational significance to him—just as Jesus vulnerably disclosed to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:21-24). To the extent that this reflects our current level of knowing God, then in a relational sense both those who lead worship and those gathered are engaged in worship of “an un-known God” (like Paul encountered in Athens, Acts 17:23). And like the Athenians, we can only shape this unknown God according to our terms (notably from human contextualization), and by extension, we determine what constitutes pleasing and significant worship, and we construct our liturgies accordingly.

‘Liturgy’ literally means “the work of the people” from Greek leitourgia (compound of laos, people, and ergon, work). This study uses ‘liturgy’ to denote that all the gathered worshipers participate actively and fully, not as passive observers. It is used synonymously with worship (noun). This chapter examines what composes primary liturgy from secondary: that which communicates worship directly to God and therefore has significance to the whole and holy God, as well as for God’s whole and holy family.

All of Jesus’ interactions challenge us to what is necessary to make relational connection with God in order to know him, which then means his language is indispensable to understand. This is why the Father makes it imperative to listen to his Son; and the Son makes the relational imperative to pay attention to both what we hear (Jesus’ relational language), as well as how we listen (Mk 4:24-25 and Lk 8:18). What we hear is determined by our hermeneutic, the interpretive lens shaping what we pay attention to and what we ignore. How we listen is determined by our theological anthropology—e.g. outer in or inner out, relationally distant or involved—which also then determines whether we worship in front of the curtain at a relational distance, or behind the curtain in communion face to Face.

Jesus calls us, as we saw for Mary, Levi, and Zacchaeus, to leave behind the comfort of the ‘old’ ways of defining ourselves from outer in, and thus to let go of the very basis by which we try to engage him in relationship at a distance. More so, Jesus challenges us to leave the ‘old’ in order to relationally trust him in new relationship together, that is, relationally joining him behind the curtain for the integral relational outcome from his sacrifice (as in Heb 9:8-10; 10:19,25). Leaving the old of the status quo in order to experience the new in communion together is nonnegotiable for Jesus’ followers, even though this faces us with uncomfortable choices. Yet, just as he is vulnerably present and intimately involved with us with nothing less and no substitutes for his whole person—ongoingly and vulnerably for relational connection—he calls us to be reciprocally vulnerable with him; and in this reciprocal interaction, he redeems, heals, and transforms our person and relationships. We can only relationally trust him as our hearts are thereby made vulnerable to God for relational connection together in order to be made whole in communion together. These are relational dynamics that he calls us to engage with him as we follow him; discipleship becomes problematic when not engaged on this depth level of involvement (cf. Peter). A critical issue regarding these dynamics is for us to clearly understand that God only engages in reciprocal (not unilateral) relationship, and seeks only those who will respond by embracing the relational work necessary for relational connection together. For us today, in Jesus’ physical absence the Spirit (Jesus’ relational replacement) is vulnerably present and intimately involved with us for the ongoing reciprocal relational work together for the redemptive change necessary to join him behind the curtain and therein worship the whole of God face to Face with the veil removed (2 Cor 3:16-18).


Worship without the Veil

To understand further what we previously discussed about Mary (chap. 2), her vulnerable involvement with Jesus—with her whole person from inner out—epitomizes the compatible reciprocal relational response to him and relational outcome to deeply know Jesus. The other disciples had complained that Mary was wasting expensive perfume by using it on him instead of selling it for the poor, exposing their primary focus on the secondary matter of ministry. Jesus replied by affirming Mary, words that we need to carefully pay attention to: “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mt 26:13; Mk 14:9). “What she has done” was relationally significant to Jesus, but not because she worshiped Jesus extravagantly; Mary worshiped him with her whole person from inner out (i.e. whole-ly) in the primacy of relationship together. Of further significance for us to pay attention to, Jesus said that Mary had anticipated “the day of my burial” (Mk 14:8; Jn 12:7). Mary’s vulnerable involvement in this way reflected the depth of Mary’s involvement in relationship with Jesus, which included having deeply listened to Jesus’ disclosures about his impending death (e.g. Mk 9:31) and also not staying relationally distant and unaffected. She demonstrated knowing and understanding Jesus beyond what any of the other disciples demonstrated (cf. Jn 14:9). Beyond a pending event, by anointing Jesus’ body beforehand for burial (Mk 14:8b), she was vulnerably involved with Jesus together in his deepest moments (“she has done what she could,” Mk 14:8a). In other words, Mary was vulnerably participating in Jesus’ life, her whole person from inner out deeply involved with Jesus’ whole person even in anticipation of his death, in stark contrast to the relational distance that the other disciples kept (e.g. Mk 9:31-32; cf. Mt 26:40,43). Basic to each of their responses to Jesus was either understanding or a lack of understanding Jesus’ relational language. In her beautiful (i.e. whole-ly involved) response to Jesus, we see how Mary deeply knew and loved Jesus; and surely at this depth level her heart was breaking as she poured the perfume on Jesus.

Communion with the whole of God means to participate in his vulnerable life and thereby know him deeply, yet our participation in the whole and holy God’s life can only be engaged with him, as he says, “where I am,” (Jn 12:26, 14:3, 17:24). At this vital juncture of God’s presence and involvement, ‘where I am’ is only ‘behind the curtain’ in the whole of God’s uncommon (holy) relational context, to be completely engaged in the trinitarian relational process of family love. Therefore, if we are ‘where I am’, our worship will engage this distinguished communion together, in a sense worshiping with our sister Mary, thus ‘in memory of her’ because this integral relational outcome is the gospel (Mk 14:9). If we are not ‘where I am’, our worship will remain focused in a primary way on substitutes composed by secondary matter of what we do or have—reflecting liturgy in front of the curtain. If we don’t relationally know Jesus in the communion of integral relationship together, we have yet to join him in his sacrifice behind the curtain (Heb 9:12, 10:19-22) that reconstitutes the sanctuary (no more secondary sanctuary) in order for the whole of God’s presence and involvement to be with us directly in Face-to-face relationship together (Eph 2:18-22)—“where I am.”

            When Jesus died, he accomplished the relational work necessary to reconcile us with God, something that obviously we could not do. Jesus’ death signified his entering behind the temple curtain to make the sacrifice necessary for God and us to be reconciled in new relationship together (Heb 9-10). Yet, as we have been discussing, the whole of God engages in relationships only on his holy terms in his relational context and relational process. The uncommon (holy) God cannot and will not engage in relationship with us in front of the curtain on our terms, that is, by the common way of doing relationships based on secondary criteria (of what we do or have) from human contextualization. In other words, only the holy God can designate where and how his Face can be encountered. Historically, the place where God’s presence was encountered was in the tabernacle and temple, behind the inner curtain in the Most Holy Place. Then, in God’s improbable relational action of the Son’s incarnation, God’s presence was whole-ly embodied in Jesus’ person (God with us). The whole and holy God’s presence “is now here,” as Jesus vulnerably disclosed to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:21-26). Jesus himself now embodied where God’s presence could be encountered, so that even before his death that tore open the curtain (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45), Jesus vulnerably embodied communion together in the most holy and intimate place, behind the curtain, signified by his table fellowship. Thus, ‘where God is’ is no longer about a physical place (even a sacred place, cf. Jn 4:21-24), and clearly not constrained to the Eucharistic elements. Jesus’ words “where I am” (Jn 12:26, 14:3, 17:24) point only to intimate communion with him face to Face in the whole of God’s intimate relational context and process (2 Cor 3:16-18; 4:4-6; Eph 2:14-22). With the relational barriers removed, we can come confidently yet only vulnerably into his vulnerable presence for ongoing communion together (Eph 3:12; Heb 10:19-20). This is Jesus’ call to us to join him by our compatible reciprocal response in the relational progression of discipleship to participate in God’s life together as his family.

As noted in chapter two, we rarely if ever hear of Mary’s beautiful response of worship mentioned wherever the gospel is proclaimed, as Jesus said. When we finally do listen to Jesus (as the Father made imperative, Mt 17:3) and pay attention to Mary’s significance to Jesus and the gospel, Mary’s whole person becomes deeply edifying for us as we think about our worship language. Yet, any discomfort we may have about Mary is important to acknowledge. Mary’s vulnerableness exposes those of us who avoid being vulnerable; she challenges us to leave behind our ‘old’—that is, the reductionism of defining ourselves from outer-in criteria of what we do and have, and on that basis try to engage in relationship with God—in order to be vulnerable with God for relational connection together. The depth of reconciliation necessitates being redeemed from our ‘old’.

Openly bringing this discomfort to our Father and not letting that discomfort constrain us is a critically important vulnerable step in our compatible reciprocal response to the triune God’s ongoing vulnerable presence and involvement with us. This is a significant step of faith—faith defined only as our compatible reciprocal response in relational trust (“in him and through faith in him,” Eph 3:12a, NIV), not something to possess as in common notions about faith. Just as Mary, Levi, the former prostitute, and Zacchaeus illuminate for us, faith as relational trust means to count on God not to criticize, shame, ignore, or reject us as we make ourselves vulnerable to him, but to receive us in our response for relational connection with him. Our vulnerable reciprocal response of relational trust is the only relational involvement with God that is compatible with who, what, and how the whole of God is and engages in relationship; and this relational involvement is the basic composition for worship. This response accordingly involves the three major issues for all practice—(1) the integrity of the person we present to God, (2) the quality of our communication to God and (3) the depth level of involvement in relationship that engages us in the trinitarian relational process of family love. Our whole person vulnerably presented and expressed in relational trust is the compatible relational language needed to compose the worship language that the whole of God will accept and enjoy with the curtain no longer between us.

In God’s primacy for relationship on his relational terms of grace, being vulnerable is unavoidable because the person we present for intimate relational connection can only be who and what we truly are, which includes our fears, inadequacies and, inescapably, our sin of reductionism. We cannot be anything but vulnerable before God in order to receive his relational grace deeply in our heart, to let Jesus ‘wash our feet’ in order to transform our hearts, in contrast to Peter. Yet, like Peter, many of us avoid being vulnerable (unknowingly or knowingly). It is much easier, more comfortable, and 'safer' to present something less than our whole vulnerable person, and so we give God a substitute from secondary matter of what we do for him (e.g. perform in a role for worship) or what we have that we can give him (e.g. our talents or other resources for worship, service and ministry). However inadvertently and unintentionally we engage in these outer-in dynamics in worship, the consequence is the construction of a secondary sanctuary in which liturgy and we as worshipers remain in front of the curtain.

In relational terms, worshiping God in front of the curtain means that our discipleship of following Jesus resists being vulnerably involved with Jesus ‘where I am’, thus creating and maintaining the hermeneutical impasse to knowing and understanding God, as Jesus experienced with the disciples. When our discipleship isn't about following Jesus, to be with him where he is behind the curtain, then what we have and practice is an incomplete Christology of a fragmented Jesus, resulting in a truncated soteriology that merely saves us from sin (yet not from reductionism) that leaves us fragmentary without relational connection, still in front of the curtain. There is no communion together, and we cannot relationally know and understand God from this position, no matter how good our intentions. In this relational condition, our worship language will be constituted only in referential terms. And even though referential worship language may sound good, even qualitative and eloquent, if such language is uttered in front of the curtain, it is merely an ontological simulation that has no relational significance to God (cf. Eze 33:30-32; 1 Cor 13:1), or to us.

To join Jesus and worship behind the curtain can only be on the basis of God’s relational grace—grace as the relational basis (not a static doctrine of grace) to be reconciled in relationship with God and as the ongoing base for reciprocal intimate relationship together. Jesus’ sacrifice behind the curtain has also removed the veil over our hearts—redeemed from the old and transformed to the new—so that this new wine can emerge and continue to flow for ongoing relational involvement with the whole of God face to Face. The depth and quality of this relational involvement together is the primary significance of participating in God’s life, and needs to compose our worship. Giving primacy to relationship together thus integrates all the secondary aspects of worship, service, and ministry to be whole. This integrated perspective is the wholeness Jesus called us to in the Sermon on the Mount, paraphrased as follows: “pursue the primacy of communion together in God’s relational context and process (the kingdom of God), with your whole person (defined by God’s righteousness as nothing less and no substitutes), and all the secondary aspects of life will be integrated accordingly (Mt 6:33; cf. Jesus admonished the church at Ephesus for ignoring the primacy of relationship, Rev 2:4).

Moreover, the relational outcome of being transformed from inner out in transformed relationships together as God’s new creation family without the veil is wholeness (peace) and relationally knowing God and participating in God’s life (i.e. qualitative zōē, not quantitative bios). In fact, this relational outcome—knowing the Trinity—is Jesus’ definition of “eternal life” (Jn 17:3). The relational language of Jesus’ definition thus corrects the common and fragmented understanding of ‘eternal life’ that is limited (ironically) to quantitative time (chronos) as merely unending life after death. Jesus defined eternal life in his formative family prayer simply as “that they know you, Father, and me” (Jn 17:3). This is the hermeneutical key that Jesus made definitive for our practice in the present, not the future. Therefore, whenever we hear or think about eternal life, the primary qualitative-relational significance is knowing and understanding the whole of God by participating in God’s zōē; and this understanding of eternal life is the relational outcome to be able to boast about (Jn 3:16-17; Jer 9:24-25). Our worship, especially in our Communion celebrations, needs to reflect this blessed relational outcome as God’s family together with the veil removed, for knowing and understanding God is truly something to boast about!

            Easter Sunday has come and gone; the curtain has been torn—at least in our theology but not necessarily in our function. A key issue that determines which side of the curtain we worship on is whether or not we make ourselves vulnerable to God. Vulnerableness reflects whether we function in whole or reduced theological anthropology—specifically, being vulnerable in the person we present, in our communication, and the depth of our relational involvement with God and others. The wholeness of Mary’s person stands out among Jesus’ first disciples as one having vulnerably joined Jesus behind the curtain and without the veil, to participate in his sacrifice and new life together. She functioned compatibly and reciprocally in relationship together in wholeness (as in tāmiym and šālôm) and with nothing less and no substitutes that composes righteousness (sĕdāqâh)—that is, as the kind of worshiper David highlighted (Ps 15:1-2). Mary was this worshiper, the same as the ‘true worshiper’ who worshiped the Father ‘in spirit’ (i.e. whole-ly, from inner out as tāmiym), and ‘in truth’ (i.e. nothing less and no substitutes in sĕdāqâh).

In contrast to Mary’s vulnerableness, Peter chose to stay cautious and measured, thus reflecting his lack of a compatible reciprocal response to Jesus’ person (cf. Peter’s resistance to letting Jesus wash his feet). Peter essentially remained in front of the curtain, worshiping on his terms with his indirect offering focused on what to do (with his offer to erect tents), and therefore with the veil still covering his face/heart (“do you love me…follow me,” Jn 21:15,22). The determining functional difference between Mary and Peter was that Mary vulnerably took steps of relational trust (i.e. faith) in the only way that is compatible with Jesus’ vulnerable presence and intimate involvement extending family love to her. This vulnerableness is irreplaceable, so vital that it is requisite for Jesus’ disciples in order to be ‘where I am’.

            There are further important implications of Mary’s compatible reciprocal response to Jesus that help us understand what is necessary on our part to experience communion with Jesus, to relationally know him and thus participate in the life of the whole of God. We have examined how her whole person (tāmiym and šālôm) functioned in relationship with Jesus with nothing less and no substitutes that composes righteousness (who, what and how one is, ṣĕdāqâh); and her righteousness reflects that she was the kind of worshiper David defined further as those who dwell in God’s holy presence (Ps 15:1-2). Mary as worshiper thus functioned in righteousness, compatibly with Jesus whose righteousness determined her own righteousness—both fulfilling the relational terms of being who, what and how one is in the new covenant together. Therefore, because Mary functioned in righteousness, Jesus could relationally count on the person she presented, the integrity and quality of her communication, and the depth of her relational involvement with Jesus as she vulnerably participated in his life. In all of this, Mary hereby demonstrates a person whose “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Mt 5:20), Jesus’ relational imperative and relational contingency to “enter the kingdom of heaven” (that is, the relational context and process of the whole of God). Mary unambiguously engaged with Jesus ‘where I am’ and experienced (as she entered) the kingdom of heaven in the present. In this distinguished function from the norm, she is one who, on account of righteousness (God’s and hers), received negative if not hostile reaction from Martha and other disciples—perhaps not exactly “persecution,” but certainly harsh complaint and criticism (Mt 26:8). Yet, as the eighth Beatitude makes definitive in relational language, she was “blessed” (makarios, deeply satisfied) because she experienced intimate communion with Jesus, and, thereby, the whole of God (“theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Mt 5:10).

            Finally, Mary’s worship certainly exposes the worship from reductionism, like that of the reductionist Pharisees, which God rejected (Mt 15:8-9; Mk 7:6-7; cf. Isa 29:13). God specifically rejected these Pharisees’ (and previously the Israelites’) worship “with lips” but “hearts far from me,” much like Peter’s worship at Jesus’ transfiguration. By contrast, the narratives of Mary’s worshipful involvement with Jesus during table fellowship do not recount that Mary verbally said anything (cf. also the intimate involvement from the former prostitute). There is an important message here, that we are worshipers whose involvement has relational significance to God only as we function in the primacy of compatible reciprocal response to him with our whole person from inner out. This response may or may not include verbal language, but certainly is composed in the tune of God’s relational language. We need to hear the composition of God’s integral relational message for worship: any language we express that does not reflect our whole person’s involvement with him in his relational language becomes a substitute, the content of which (e.g. words and acts of praise, in referential terms) also does not have relational significance to God. Such worship remains at a relational distance, with the veil still in position while in front of the curtain.

Whatever aspect of communion with God, more than the other disciples Mary reciprocally embodied the level of intimate involvement necessary in discipleship and worship to be congruent with the gospel Jesus vulnerably embodied. This gospel of wholeness composed by Jesus only in relational language has no other relational outcome. Stated simply in Jesus’ relational language:

Being vulnerable in relationship is the reciprocal relational means to intimacy together (hearts open to and making connection with each other), which involves us in the integral relational process without the veil necessary to know and understand the whole of God.

Anything less or any substitutes for our person and in our response do not understand Jesus’ relational language. And we need to further understand what underlies this gap in our practice in order to address it accordingly to be whole.


Hermeneutic of a ‘Child’

In chapter two, we discussed how the process of reductionism prevents us from being vulnerable with our whole person because our person gets reduced to outer-in fragments (what we do and have), and on that basis we attempt to engage in relationship. Our ‘old’ interpretive framework (hermeneutic) pays attention to the quantitative outer-in criteria of what one does or has in a comparative process while ignoring the qualitative-relational aspects of the whole person’s function in relationships. This focus ignores the primacy of the heart’s qualitative function for relational connection and thereby keeps the heart unavailable for any depth of relational connection. This quantitative hermeneutic, often without our awareness, keeps us at a relational distance in only shallow involvement whereby we limit the process for knowing someone (i.e. the epistemic process) to merely acquiring referential knowledge about that person without the depth of relationally knowing them. The lack or absence of relational connection has been the norm in relationships—both past and present in our human condition—and any deeper connection has become not only an inconvenience but also a matter of avoidance. This norm is increasingly evident globally with the multitude of connections made through social media, and locally in the U.S. with the emotionally vacant connections of a “hook-up culture” among the millennial generation (teens and young adults)—both designed for minimal engagement in shallow relationships.

In our relationship of following Jesus, we allow these dynamics, however unknowingly, to prevent our vulnerable involvement necessary to receive Jesus in his relational language, and to prevent our vulnerable response to be able to ‘speak’ his relational language in intimate relationship together. Therefore, Jesus has conclusively revealed that to vulnerably follow him on his relational terms unavoidably necessitates our reciprocal responsibility to become vulnerable in the process of redemptive change of our perceptual-interpretive framework (cf. Paul’s same imperative, Rom 8:5-6, 12:2). Our ‘old’ interpretive framework (phronēma) and lens (phroneō) and its epistemic process must be redeemed and made ‘new’ in order to learn from inner out his relational language (i.e. vulnerable relational involvement in communion together, or ‘whole immersion’) necessary to relationally know him. This redemptive change is nonnegotiable, so that any effort composed by reductionism in ourselves (e.g. as self-determination) becomes exposed by our distance (qualitatively, emotionally, relationally), and therein confronts our assumptions. This interpretation is not open to variation if it is to transform our involvement in worship, church, and even theological education. Our critical part in this process is first to be vulnerable with God, as Jesus conclusively illuminates in key interactions in which he invokes the relational involvement of a ‘child’.

In three interactions critical for us to consider carefully, Jesus focused his disciples (and others) on little children as a metaphor for persons who function with the hermeneutic and epistemic process needed to make relational connection with Jesus on his relational terms and thereby know and understand the whole of God. How so? The unpretentious vulnerable function of little children represents the compatible relational response and depth of involvement distinguishing the true worshipers the Father seeks (e.g. Mary). With this relational lens, therefore, Jesus makes it imperative for his followers to engage in relationship with the vulnerable involvement of a ‘child-person’. This engagement is nonnegotiable for all who follow Jesus to be with him ‘where I am’ in order to make the relational connection necessary to become daughters and sons who know and understand God, and accordingly worship in spirit and truth without the veil.

The first key interaction is recorded in Luke (Lk 10:17-23, briefly mentioned in the Introduction). After having completed their mission, Jesus’ seventy-two disciples “returned with joy” (chara, related to charis, grace). Excitedly, in this relational outcome of grace, they reported to Jesus what had taken place in his name. They expressed themselves freely, even vulnerably, to Jesus, quite in contrast to those times they were constrained to share with him (e.g. Mk 8:16, 9:32; Lk 9:45; Jn 4:27). In response, Jesus expressed his own joy by skipping and leaping ebulliently (agalliaō) in the Spirit, praising the Father with his whole person from inner out, both verbally and also by dancing about, freely and vulnerably as a child would (cf. Isa 11:6). He praised the Father, “because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants [or little children].”

In this key passage, Jesus juxtaposes the ‘wise and learned or intelligent’ (sophos and synetos) and ‘little child’ (nēpios), and in doing so distinguishes which persons receive and thus complete the relational connection initiated by God’s vulnerable self-disclosures. Characteristic of the ‘wise and learned’ is their quantitative interpretive framework that pays attention to outer aspects of Jesus, such as his teaching and actions, and consequently they acquire only referential knowledge about him. Their limited epistemic process focuses only on Jesus as object to learn fragmentary or disembodied knowledge (e.g. propositional truth), but without vulnerable involvement of their own person to engage Jesus as Subject in relationship together. Most of us have functioned as the ‘wise and learned’ (knowingly or unknowingly), treating God’s self-disclosures with measured involvement that gives primacy to the outer-in function of reasoning (the intellect) without the heart’s qualitative function. This rationalizing approach to God’s self-disclosures characterizes the prevailing mode in biblical studies and theology in the academy, but also can apply to teaching in church, or in personal Bible study. Yet, Jesus is not in any way suggesting fideism (faith without reason). The relational consequence for the ‘wise and learned’ is that God’s vulnerable self-disclosures for relationship together remain “hidden” and relational connection cannot be experienced; this signifies the relational consequence of functioning with the veil, in front of the curtain. This relational gap is insurmountable by the working of the human mind, whose hermeneutic is capable of shaping and constructing merely epistemic illusion and ontological simulation.

In contrast to the ‘wise and learned’ are persons who function with the interpretive lens and epistemic process of ‘little children’. The Greek word nēpios is formed from (not) and epōs (word), literally meaning “wordless,” referring to a child too young to talk—that is, more precisely, an infant. Babies this young do not yet talk in developed language, yet communicate and make relational connection with their whole person. This relational reality should not elude us in defining the significance of our person. They openly receive communication from others and communicate, albeit nonverbally. The significance that Jesus highlights of these child-persons is their use of a qualitative-relational interpretive framework and compatible epistemic process that gives primacy to relational connection with Jesus by vulnerably receiving his whole person (not primacy to mere referential words in his teaching), and reciprocally responding in their own vulnerableness. Because of their open (not measured) reception and response, God’s self-disclosures are thus able to be “revealed” and relational connection made (cf. Heb 9:8; 10:19-22). This distinguished relational connection is what was “well pleasing” to the Father, which Jesus knew because it was delightful to him as well. This vulnerableness for relational connection with the whole of God is irreplaceable, therefore, to compose our involvement in worship that is well-pleasing to God. These relational dynamics are vital for us to understand if our worship is to also distinguish the whole and holy God, and not an un-known God we have shaped.

The hermeneutic we use is critical to define the person Jesus whom we follow, and to determine the known from un-known God whom we worship. The following excerpts deepen our understanding of the distinction Jesus is making between the wise-learned person and the child-person:

[Jesus] was not suggesting that God’s revelation was selectively given to only certain persons, and thus not available to all. His only focus here is about knowing and understanding God’s self-disclosure, which is grasped not as observers (however astute) but understood only by involvement in the relational context and process by which God communicates.

The “young children” (nepios), about whom Jesus was so excited, is a metaphor for a person from inner out, not from outer in: an unassuming person just being whom God created—with a heart open and involved, a mind free and adaptable to the improbable (i.e. able to go outside of the box as characteristic of most children). More specifically, this “child-person” functions by using the mind ingenuously in likeness of the whole of God, without unnecessarily complicating matters or overanalyzing things, yet not over-simplistic or foolish, thus compatible with the qualitative presence of God—a mind distinct from what prevails in the human context. Most important, therefore, this child-person’s mind does not function apart from the heart in order to entrust one’s whole person—nothing less and no substitutes—to be vulnerably present and intimately involved in God’s relational context and process for the relational epistemic process necessary to know the whole of God. Moreover, while the mind of a child is considered immature and undeveloped according to prevailing terms, this metaphor includes the function of a perceptual-interpretive framework that is unrestricted by predispositions and biases. As our mind grows in development, we also put on different lenses that tend to become more and more restricting and essentially reductionist (e.g. imagination, creativity, spontaneity decrease)—as in the trained incapacities often from higher learning. This ironic development describes “the wise and intelligent or learned,” who, as Jesus directly implied, depend on their rationality (sophos and synetos) without epistemic humility. Consequently, they fail to function as the whole person from inner out necessary by nature to engage the relational epistemic process to receive God’s self-disclosures and know the whole of God in relationship together—resulting in the relational consequence to labor in fragmentation and not truly be whole.[1]

            A child-person characterizes the ‘soft’, vulnerable heart that is open to others (in Scripture referred to as “circumcised hearts,” e.g. Dt 10:16, 30:6; Rom 2:29) in contrast to “hardened hearts” (e.g. Ps 95:8; Zec 7:12; Mk 10:5; Heb 3:15; cf. Eze 36:26). This openness to others signifies being both sensitive to the qualitative and relationally aware, thereby composing the hearts sought by God that are available for relational connection together. Recent studies on babies highlight how deeply babies are relationally aware and sensitive to the qualitative in interactions, and help us understand more deeply why Jesus uses babies as the metaphor for our necessary involvement with him. For example, babies’ vulnerability to others is confirmed by one such baby study:

Human babies, notably, cry more to the cries of other babies than to tape recordings of their own crying, suggesting that they are responding to their awareness of someone else’s pain, not merely to a certain pitch of sound. Babies also seem to want to assuage the pain of others: once they have enough physical competence (starting at about 1 year old), they soothe others in distress by stroking and touching or by handing over a bottle or toy. There are individual differences, to be sure, in the intensity of response: some babies are great soothers; others don’t care as much. But the basic impulse seems common to all.[2]

Also, consider these comments from psychology professor Paul Bloom, indicating how babies communicate their innate relational nature without words (nēpios):

Psychologists had known for a while that even the youngest of babies treat people different from inanimate objects. Babies like to look at faces; they mimic them, they smile at them. They expect engagement: if a moving object becomes still, they merely lose interest; if a person’s face becomes still, however, they become distressed.[3]

Babies quite naturally stare at strangers. They are curious and haven’t yet been socialized by the message “It’s not polite to stare.” When my husband and I are out, we sometimes see families with babies. At times, the babies will stare at us, and we smile at them, say “hi” and give a little wave. They then either grin happily and flap their arms or look away shyly only to look back again and again. However brief the interaction is, the relational connection has unmistakable significance to them, and we certainly delight in the connection too. Such interactions and the further understanding we gain from baby studies confirm Jesus’ deep knowledge of babies and child-persons underlying his imperative for connection, that they function with relational significance in the three major issues for all our practice that all of Jesus’ followers have to account for. To review, they are (1) the integrity and vulnerability of the person we present, (2) the quality and integrity of our communication from inner out, and (3) the depth of relationship engaged for relational connection. Babies communicate through their unspoken relational language of facial expressions, physical gestures, and sounds, with their lens focused on the qualitative over the quantitative. We certainly can learn from babies why becoming like a child-person is a relational imperative for Jesus’ followers to worship inner out in spirit and truth on his vulnerable relational terms.

            None of these relational dynamics are new to us, because all of us were at one time babies born with the qualitative-relational interpretive framework and relational epistemic process. Yet, not surprisingly, most if not all of us change from that kind of vulnerability in relationships; we have ‘lost’ these relational functions through ‘trained incapacities’ from reductionism, as noted in the quote above. Adulthood in every culture (to my knowledge) has this consequence. The lack of vulnerability characterizes even our most significant relationships—with God and other loved ones—and prevails in most of our worship gatherings. The relational implication in worship is that without the vulnerableness that composes the hermeneutic of a child, we remain worshiping in front of the curtain and thus maintaining the veil—not relationally connecting with the Lord; and our worship consists of substitutes from the secondary of what we do and have, the significance of which is shaped only by human contextualization. This so-called worship certainly is neither relationally significant to God nor relationally satisfying to us. Yet, such worship in front of the curtain is the status quo prevailing in so much of our worship experience. It is not clear whether we keep the status quo because either we are merely resigned to the lack of relational connection, or we have given up and assume such communion is consigned to the ‘not yet’ of eschatology; perhaps we in fact prefer it this way. In any case, we are called to account for Jesus’ relational imperative for worship—“must worship in spirit and truth”—which means to be vulnerable in relationship with the whole of God with our whole person, nothing less (or more) and no substitutes.

            The redemptive change we must undergo from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ must include leaving behind our quantitative interpretive frameworks and referential epistemic processes which we have cherished as ‘wise and learned’ persons; leaving the old is requisite in order to emerge with the new qualitative-relational interpretive framework and relational epistemic process essential to be able to hear, receive, and respond to and with Jesus’ relational language with our whole person from inner out. This is the integral redemptive change that Jesus challenged Nicodemus with (“you must be born from above” or “born anew,” Jn 3:3,7) in order to see or enter the kingdom of God (vv.3,5)—which we have already identified as the relational context and process of the whole of God.[4] Jesus makes this further relational imperative in a second interaction (to be discussed shortly) to address the disciples on their common (i.e. not holy or uncommon) outer-in function from human contextualization and the relational barriers evident among them. How the disciples responded to Jesus’ hermeneutical correction is not immediately apparent.

            The hermeneutic and epistemic process we use in our relationship with God—either that of ‘wise and learned’ or of the ‘child-person’—composes either referential language and fragmentary knowledge about God, or relational language and whole knowledge of God. This difference distinguishing the two conflicting ways we function is the difference between immature and the mature followers of Jesus, a paradoxical difference that challenges our sociocultural notions of maturity (Heb 5:11-14). The writer of Hebrews admonishes persons for being “dull in understanding” (i.e. lazy or sluggish in understanding v.11), just as Jesus critiqued his disciples for failing to know and understand his self-closures (Mk 8:17-21; cf. Lk 9:45). These persons are immature (“infant” in the negative sense of being undeveloped, i.e. “you need milk,” Heb 5:12), who are stuck on the fundamentals of God’s disclosures (“elementary truths of God’s word,” NIV; cf. the common overly christocentric focus of much of our worship services, Heb 6:1), and not growing in understanding the necessity of righteousness (the whole of who, what, and how one is) as the essential relational function for covenant relationship with God (v.13). Whether we function as ‘wise and learned’ or ‘dull in understanding’, both reflect the lack of ‘soft hearts’ of vulnerableness to both receive and relationally respond to God’s vulnerable self-closures embodied by Jesus’ whole person, and thus are not able to follow him behind the curtain to be with the whole of God Face to face without the veil.

The writer contrasts these immature ones still feeding on milk with the mature who go on to solid food. What distinguishes the mature is that they use their organ of sense and perception, that is, their hermeneutical means (aisthētērion, v.14), to perceive, receive, and respond to God’s self-disclosures. They are able to know and understand God because they have responded compatibly to the whole of God as “those who are being made holy [uncommon]” (Heb 10:14), joining Jesus behind the curtain (Heb 6:19, 10:19-22). The writer of Hebrews included this key discussion about aisthētērion (perceptual-interpretive framework and lens) to address persons’ apparent lack of relational trust necessary to experience communion together with the whole of God without the use of a veil (i.e. any form of relational distance). Conjoined with Jesus’ words about the hermeneutic of a ‘child’, the mature are, ironically, those who become a child-person, while the immature are like the ‘wise and learned’—quite in contrast to and in conflict with the measuring stick for so-called mature Christians from human contextualization! With this irony we should be encouraged, because the blessed outcome of any epistemic and relational humility exercised to become a child-person is to experience nothing less and no substitutes of the whole of God, thereby to know and understand God, and whereby be worshipers congruent with the Father’s desires—to his great pleasure.

The second key interaction takes place between Jesus and the disciples, and begins with the disciples embroiled in the comparative process of ‘better-less’ indicated by social ranking (“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Mt 18:1-4; cf. Mk 9:33-34; Lk 9:46). Their reductionism (i.e. their reduced theological anthropology) was on full display. In response to them, Jesus brought a little child into their midst and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never participate in the kingdom of heaven” (v.3). Jesus is making being ‘where I am’ (signified by “the kingdom of heaven” [5]) contingent on “change and become like little children.” Jesus is not literally telling his disciples to behave like very young children; such a view would be to interpret Jesus’ language referentially from outer in and fail to understand Jesus (which was Nicodemus’ problem, Jn 3:4,9). Nor is Jesus idealizing children. In direct response to their reductionism, which constrained them from making relational connection with him and created competition with each other, Jesus focused them on how they needed to change in order to participate in his life behind the curtain for communion together without the veil.

            To “humble oneself” (in reflexive voice, Mt 18:4) is Jesus’ relational imperative for his followers to be involved with him openly with their whole person from inner out. Essential to humbling oneself is the vulnerableness of a child-person—that is, without pretense, without “masks” to hide behind, without presenting anything less or any substitute for one’s whole person. Although Jesus did not specifically address the issue of masks in this interaction, it is important to understand how the use of “masks” counters vulnerableness of a child-person. The use of masks is to present an identity to God (and others) in relationship that is different from our whole person from inner out. Masks in Greek theater were used by actors to play a role, a character or identity other than their own; this is the significance of the masquerade of hypokrisis that both Jesus and Paul rebuked (Lk 12:1-3; 2 Cor 11:13-15). Peter was later confronted by Paul for just such hypocrisy (Gal 2:11-14), which reflected the need for Peter’s further transformation from inner out. The relational consequence of such a presentation is always functionally indicated in relational distance.

            For Jesus’ disciples today, this common dynamic of hypokrisis continues to have direct consequences for the person we present to others in our relationships—notably with God and in the church family but also in the world. The primacy of relationship that God created us for will always be reduced to secondary importance when persons function with masks, even unknowingly and unintentionally. This reduced priority sets in motion a reordering of relationships together whose appearance has no real significance (cf. Heb 9:9-10). In other words, masks function in ontological simulation, namely in church only simulating the new creation family.

            For the focus of this study—the interpretation, understanding and meaning of worship language—the use of masks (i.e. engage in masquerade, or hypokrisis) in worship is especially problematic. To use a mask is to perform a role from outer in of worship leader, musician, singer, or preacher, including a gathering of worshipers, all enacted to construct the drama of worship. Masks in worship give the appearance of worshiping God, of being devout, even spiritually mature—but are not vulnerably involved with God or each other with the vulnerableness of a child-person that Jesus clearly makes imperative. The outer-in performance of these roles draws attention and gives primacy to the outer presentation of what one does and has, for example, musical talent, eloquence, style in preaching, even demonstrative singing—performed even with the intention of worshiping God. The significance of one’s performance is always measured in a comparative process, whether in comparison to what others do and have, or by the comparative feedback we get from others who also focus on the performance. Such feedback is given in our churches increasingly as praise and applause directly following a performance, and this is extremely problematic in worship and feeds the underlying concern expressed by the disciples “Who is the greatest?” Consequently, praise and applause after any performance in worship creates relational ambiguity—that is, who is being praised? Some sensitive worship leaders figure out ways to deflect applause in God’s direction, but rare are those who intentionally teach congregations to praise only God. This relational ambiguity exists in all Christian contexts wherever Jesus’ disciples define themselves from outer in (signified by “who is greatest?”), but is particularly grievous in worship. Our worship language becomes unintelligible as communication that distinguishes reciprocal relational response to the Face of God. Thus, prevalence of relationally ambiguous worship reflects the reductionism in worship and church leadership, reflecting reductionism’s counter-relational work. Jesus holds with special accountability those who are leaders and teachers in worship, church and the academy (Mt 18:5-6) because all such persons have the relational responsibility to help others grow in relationship on God’s relational terms only—for the primacy God gives to relationally knowing and understanding him.

            To function with masks, or with the veil, is the antithesis of righteousness, because God cannot relationally count on mask-veil users in worship to be whole-ly who, what and how they truly are from inner out; the person they present to God in worship functions less than whole, at a relational distance, as one yet to be mature (Heb 5:13). These are not worshipers who worship in spirit and truth without the veil, but persons with the veil (often presenting extremely attractive and convincing selves) still in place. To humble oneself to become a child-person (“become humble like this child,” Mt 18:4) is to come with honesty of our heart to God about our sin (including the sin of reductionism), fully accepting we are utterly incapable to make relational connection with God on our own terms from self-determination. This vulnerable relational posture before the whole and holy God is what Jesus makes clear in the first Beatitude (cf. ‘poor in spirit’, Mt 5:3). To thus humble ourselves is an inescapable step in the redemptive process of dying to the ‘old’ way of defining our self, which includes our masquerade, and to be redefined ‘new’ from inner out by only God’s relational grace to remove our veil, thereby to be made whole in face-to-Face relational connection (cf. Eph 4:24).[6]

            Refocusing now on the interaction between Jesus and his disciples, with his words “welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Mt 18:5), Jesus redirects the disciples’ involvement in God’s relational context and process to include their involvement with each other—in response to their counter-relational concern in a comparative-competitive process. Jesus makes clear that just as they must function in vulnerableness for communion together with him in order to participate in the kingdom of heaven (signified by “in my name”), they must also deliberately function with this same depth of relational involvement with each other—that is, to “welcome” each other in congruent function as his followers (“welcomes me”). “Welcome” (dechomai) means to accept deliberately and readily—that is, without the distinctions from human contextualization, which they were not doing; Jesus thus indicated how they needed to further change to function in relational likeness with how the trinitarian Persons engage in relationships together. We need also to apply Jesus’ words to how we function in our worship gatherings so that our relationships are reordered in this primacy; our vulnerable involvement with God is inseparable from how we are engaged with each other if we are indeed functioning new as God’s family (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12; 1 Jn 4:7-12). In other words, worship is not primarily an individual experience but the whole function of the church as the new creation in likeness of the Trinity (cf. Col 3:9-17).

In the whole of this key discourse (Mt 18:1-9), Jesus is engaged in nothing short of the integral relational work of redemptive reconciliation. That is, we need to keep in mind that in this interaction, Jesus is taking the disciples through his deep relational work necessary to redemptively reconcile them to the whole of God to be new creation family together. Therefore, our understanding about reconciliation needs to go much further and deeper than common notions from human contexts, for example, that reconciliation is merely about removing the cause of conflict between two parties. With this limited view, reconciliation with God is merely about peaceful coexistence with God. Such a view of reconciliation is insufficient for intimate communion with the whole-ly God, whose being is qualitatively constituted by heart, whose distinguished nature is relational, and whose ongoing presence is vulnerably involved.

The work Jesus is engaged in is to clearly illuminate for his disciples the irreconcilable difference between their reduced theological anthropology (in ontology and function) from human contextualization and the whole theological anthropology in God’s relational context and process, represented by a child-person. Reconciliation with God cannot be on our common terms, because doing so allows us to remain in our reduced theological anthropology and function relationally distant. Reconciled relationship with whole-ly God can only be experienced in God’s relational context which Jesus embodied at table fellowship; with the triune God behind the curtain; the kingdom of God/heaven, and nonnegotiably engaged in the trinitarian intimate relational process of family love. The relational outcome for us is to be made new (whole from inner out) as adopted daughters and sons in the new relationships together necessary to be whole—thus to compose God’s whole, his new creation family, the church. Implicit in Jesus’ discourse is the nonnegotiable basis of relational grace for reconciliation; and this reconciliation is redemptive because it necessitates dying to the old in order to emerge in the new as God’s new creation family together. These are the integral relational family dynamics Jesus is vulnerably working out in family love with his disciples, and for which the Spirit is vulnerably present and intimately involved (or, more likely, waiting to be involved) with us to make a relational reality and bring to completion.

Reduced theological anthropology in no way whatsoever can make relational connection with the whole and holy God. The disciples’ reductionism and comparative process could never enable them to engage in his life ‘where I am’ (“participating in the kingdom of heaven,” Mt 18:4; cf. Mt 5:3)—and this is true for us today. The disciples needed to change by becoming vulnerable like a child-person with Jesus in the relational context and process of the whole of God, and thereby engage the relational epistemic process to know and understand his relational language. If they did not change and they continued to function in reductionism, they could not participate in his life (signified by “enter the kingdom of heaven”); this relational consequence is evident in Jesus’ painful exposure of these disciples (Jn 14:9). Moreover, for Jesus’ disciples to continue in reductionism has the unavoidable effect of influencing others to also engage in reductionism (cf. Peter’s outer-in function influenced “even Barnabas” at the Antioch church, for which Paul had to rebuke Peter, Gal 2:11-14).[7] Jesus’ words may sometimes sound harsh (Mt 18:6-10), but such language is necessary to communicate his unambiguous message that to continue in reductionism and reinforce reductionism in others is unacceptable and, essentially, condemned. Therefore, it is hermeneutically inexcusable to claim that Jesus’ relational language is not clear to us and to assume a position of non-understanding.

On the other hand, for his disciples to undergo redemptive change to a child-person, and thus freed from reductionism (i.e. defined and determined by human contextualization), involves perceiving and engaging each other from inner out in new relationships together. This transformation means no longer functioning from outer in, in the comparative-competitive process, but with the same vulnerableness needed to receive Jesus’ whole person, thus also to receive the Father (18:5). In this way, Jesus’ followers participate in the kingdom of heaven as the new creation family in communion together, sharing fully in new wine table fellowship, and worshiping the triune God in his relational language, speaking to and for God such that God is distinguished and thus made known to the world (as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:16-23).

The issue of vulnerableness is the key to Jesus’ hermeneutic and relational involvement of a child-person, and is irreplaceable for communion together with Jesus behind the curtain and with the veil removed. We simply can no longer ignore his relational imperative and file it away in our biblical information folder. We cannot relationally trust God (e.g. taking the steps that involve risks, cf. Mary, Levi, the former prostitute, and Zacchaeus) without being vulnerable with him. We cannot experience his relational grace without being vulnerable in the depths of our hearts, which has to include bringing before him our sin of reductionism. We cannot relationally experience the whole of God in his righteousness, faithfulness, and family love without our vulnerableness with him. And we cannot know and understand the whole of God’s relational language in all of Scripture (cf. Jn 8:43) without our vulnerable involvement with him. Being vulnerable both defines our whole person and determines our whole function with nothing less and no substitutes for who, what, and how we are, which is the reciprocal response compatible to and congruent with God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement with us.

Therefore, we must not fail to deeply hear and embrace in our hearts Jesus’ relational message behind this ‘critique of hope’. Jesus has communicated the necessary critique to his followers to help us see and take up our relational responsibility for the change necessary in order to participate in God’s whole life now. His critiques are only in God’s response with family love to our human relational condition embedded in reductionism (cf. Heb 12:5-6). Making relational connection with the whole of God by becoming vulnerable and humble is not beyond anyone’s means as we reciprocally engage with the Spirit’s relational work with us. It is, however, beyond the function of the wise-learned person. That is to say, our old interpretive framework that focuses outer in on what we ‘have to do’ is what makes God seem so hard to know and relationally far away from us. Without epistemic humility, we are the ones who make our relationship with God complicated; indeed, by remaining in our fragmentation, reductionism, and referentialization from our human context, we make God “hidden,” while reasoning that God is unknowable or a mystery. To show us how we need to change, Jesus’ metaphor of the child-person calls us to relationally trust him with the hermeneutic of a ‘child’; this is our vital relational responsibility. To any concerns we have about how difficult it is to know and understand God, and compatibly respond, God has already addressed his people in only relational language. “So simple a child-person can do it” is a way to rephrase God’s relational words to the Israelites, first spoken through Moses to Israel:

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Dt 30:11-14, NIV).

            What is beyond our capabilities is to make relational connection with the whole and holy God on our own terms from self-determination, terms which keep us relationally “hidden” and thus unavailable to God. To counter the lies from reductionism that tell us to exercise our own wisdom (cf. Gen 3:5-6), to depend on our bottom-up constructions (cf. Gen 11:1-9), and turn to our theological conclusions (cf. Job 42:3), Jesus tells us that we have to become the child-person who is vulnerable with our whole person from inner out (cf. the temptations and lies from reductionism that Jesus faced, Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-12).[8] While becoming vulnerable is a threatening prospect for many of us, it is an inescapable matter requiring our choice. It is our relational responsibility to take steps with the Spirit to relationally trust the Father to relationally receive us in our unembellished, unmasked, forgiven, whole person from inner out (as in “welcome one such child-person,” dechomai, to readily accept, Mt 18:5; cf. Mt 19:14; Mk 10:14-16; Lk 18:15-17; Rom 8:14-16). It is also our choice to relationally count on him to keep his specific word that “My grace is sufficient for you” to make relational connection together behind the curtain without the veil (2 Cor 12:9; 3:16-17). The hermeneutic of a child is indispensable to make these choices, and is also the irreplaceable key for ongoing relational connection to further know and understand God with maturity.

The third key interaction, in progression from the first two interactions, specifically illuminates the compatible relational response for worship (Mt 21:12-16; cf. Mk 11:15-18; Lk 19:45-47), an interaction which took place between Jesus and some scribes and chief priests (temple leaders). Soon after Jesus’ celebratory entry into Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple and cleansed it of the persons and activities that had reduced the temple to “a den of robbers” (v.13; cf. Jer 7:11)—that is, constructed a fragmentary context shaped by fragmented persons and relationships that further fragmented its participants. Jesus thus restored the temple to its primary function in wholeness as God’s relational context for relational involvement together as “a house of prayer” open to all persons (Mk 11:17), those who functioned inner out with righteousness (“who choose the things that please me…to love me and to be my worshipers” (Isa 56:1-7). This restored temple function was immediately evident as blind and lame persons came to Jesus there and were made whole (healed); and in uncommon function the children (paidas) shouted in the temple “Hosanna to the son of David!” (Mt 21:14-15). The chief priests and scribes became angry and confronted Jesus about the children proclaiming such worship in the temple; the indignation of these temple leaders only exposed their own fragmentary condition from a reduced theological anthropology (ontology and function), illuminated as follows:

Part of the relational outcome for the temple [being restored] involved children crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Certainly in our tradition we have no problem with this but within the limits of those leaders’ epistemic field they strongly objected to the improbable. The improbable was twofold for them: (1) the whole of God’s theological trajectory as Subject embodied by the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of Jesus, who to them—within the limits of their tradition—was a mere object transmitting information about God that they disputed; (2) and by implication equally improbable to them—yet based more on their ontology and function rather than their tradition—was essentially that these children knew better than the leaders what they were saying—improbable because the leaders had the key knowledge about God in general and about the messiah in particular from their rabbinic education. Based on an ontology and function defined by what they did and had, there was no way children could make definitive statements about the probable with certainty and without error, much less about the improbable; and they needed to be kept in their place in the socio-religious order based on reduced ontology and function.

Jesus’ response to them redefined the person and transformed the existing relational order. He pointed them to God’s relational action having “prepared praise” from children (katartizo, 21:16). Katartizo connotes either to complete or to repair and restore back to completion (cf. Eph 4:12), which in this context points to God’s relational action to make whole the person reduced to outer-in distinctions and the relationships necessary to be intimately involved together in God’s whole family. This wholeness is signified in the vulnerable openness of these children involved with Jesus in their relational response of trust. This more deeply connects back to when Jesus leaped for joy over his Father’s “good pleasure” (eudokia, righteous purpose) to disclose himself to the intimate relational involvement of “little children” and not to the “the wise and learned” in what integrally constitutes the whole ontology and function of the new relational order (Lk 10:21, NIV).[9]

In this interaction, Jesus again emphasizes the contrast between how a child-person functions, and how the ‘wise and learned’ function in relation to him. The child-person’s hermeneutical means (aisthētērion) paid attention to Jesus’ whole person as he restored the temple to its qualitative-relational whole function, signified in part by his healing the blind and lame. The children thereby recognized who Jesus was and celebrated his wonderful (i.e. distinguished) work to restore God’s relational context in which persons are made whole too. Having this relational knowledge and understanding—the outcome Jesus made conclusive is “revealed to little children,” (Lk 10:21)—these child-persons compatibly worshiped Jesus for all to hear, thereby uncommonly as worship leaders with the veil removed. In contrast to the children, the limited framework and lens of the chief priests and scribes focused entirely differently: they did not recognize who Jesus was disclosing as he restored the temple (“my house,” Mt 21:13; Isa 56:7); nor did they rejoice in what was embodied in Jesus’ whole person, that is, replacing the physical temple with the relational context and process of the whole of God for “all peoples” (‘am, denoting all tribes, all humanity, Isa 56:7) in the qualitative new temple reconstituted behind the curtain to remove the veil (Eph 2:14-22). These temple leaders did not know and understand who and what the children clearly knew because they were the ‘wise and learned’ from whom “these things are hidden from their hermeneutic” (Lk 10:21). What is more, they wanted these children suppressed, essentially, to be silenced—the common negative or even hostile reaction from reductionism in the presence of wholeness and righteousness (cf. the disciples “bothering” Mary). Those who function without the veil always pose a threat to those with the veil; and worship language (such as above) is a key indicator making evident this threat.

This brings us to a vital matter concerning worship language that we need to carefully listen to. Jesus’ response to the indignation of the chief priests and scribes pointed them to their own Scriptures: “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’” (Mt 21:16; cf. Ps 8:1-2). Here again is the irony that child-persons, signified by “infants” (nepiōn) and “nursing babies” (thelazontōn) who do not yet speak, are the ones whose vulnerable involvement makes their hearts available for relational connection with the whole and holy God whereby praise comes forth. Without the presence of a veil, they are the ones who listen to and speak in God’s relational language. Jesus’ words here taken from Psalm 8 are about the nature and function of God’s relational language, not referential language. He directs the temple leaders to this major Psalm (8:1-2) which opens with praise for who, what and how God’s presence (signified in the OT by ‘his name’) is. To simply state Jesus’ point:

Only God is “distinguished” (’addiyr, insufficiently rendered “majestic” to set God apart) and only God can speak for himself. Relational language is the only language God speaks, the only language that can speak to God and for God; therefore, praise significant to God can only be composed by relational language from the lips of those who speak God’s relational language. Referential language is unable to speak to or for God.

The Hebrew for “prepared” or “ordained” is yāsad (v.2), meaning to establish firmly, appoint, assign, lay a foundation (cf. Ps 78:69, 102:25); God thus definitively established that the only praise that can distinguish him is the qualitative relational response of child-persons who do not rely on referential words, but are whole-ly involved with their whole person from inner out. Those using referential language cannot distinguish God—though they may state loads of information about God—and are therefore rendered silent (v.2), unable to speak to or for the distinguished God. In Jesus’ response noted in the block quote above, the Greek katartizō is translated as “prepared” or “ordained” and connotes “either to complete or to repair and restore back to completion.” The praise in relational language ordained in OT times needed to be restored back to completeness, to wholeness because such praise had become de-relationalized and fragmented from the whole person by the reduced involvement of referential language uttered by the ‘wise and learned’ who “honor me with lips but their hearts are far from me,” which Jesus rebuked in another interaction (Mt 15:8-9).

We need to hear again Jesus’ unmistakable claim as to who can speak to and for God in his relational language in worship; and we need to be hermeneutically corrected by his relational words. This is not optional but imperative, his relational imperative for our worship to have significance both to God and to those who participate. Worship in referential language can certainly speak about God, but it will be always worshiping a fragmentary God, a reshaped God who does not speak for himself, including an un-known God, and thus engaged by worshipers who honor this God with lips but distant hearts without relational connection. In other words, referential language cannot distinguish God’s vulnerable self-disclosures, so that God cannot be distinguished in our midst as gathered worshipers.[10]


Composing Primary Liturgy

            The hermeneutic issues underlying all worship language are unavoidable for those who claim the gospel, follow Jesus and proclaim his good news. These issues for Jesus are defining priorities that we must attend to. Any hermeneutic can compose liturgy. The critical question is whether that liturgy is primary or merely secondary in its significance.

            Liturgy behind the curtain is the primary framework for ‘singing the new song’ (discussed in chap. 1) that integrally signifies the gospel and distinguishes the Subject of not simply good news but the ‘best news’. Therefore, singing the new song can only be composed by relational language in the conjoint qualitative and relational significance of communion together without the veil as God’s new creation family. Only liturgy behind the curtain distinguishes the whole of God, and only on this basis of vulnerable involvement composes the worship of the Trinity, nothing less and no substitutes.

Singing without this integral qualitative and relational significance only composes “new” songs in referential language in a secondary worship framework still operating in front of the curtain. This hermeneutical distinction is critical to understand. Anything less and any substitute of our person (both individually and corporately) and in our response of worship (inseparably including discipleship) can no longer be interpreted as having any significance to the whole and holy God—whose Face is now vulnerably present before us and intimately involved ongoingly for communion together with us.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to engage in direct relational connection…by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain…let us intimately connect with the whole of God in reciprocal response with our whole heart, singing to him the new song” (Heb 10:19-20,22). The song below illuminates the composition of primary liturgy, that was composed in the key of Jesus with the Spirit and sung with Paul (2 Cor 3:16-18).



‘Singing’ the New Song[11]




Sing the new song to the Lord

Sing the new song to our Lord

  (Joyfully)  —the veil is gone

    the veil is gone

[embrace the whole of God]         Note: [ ]s hummed (or the like); no words aloud, no                                                                                                                        instruments played


Sing the new song to the Lord

Sing the new song to our Lord

—you are holy

    you are whole

—we’re uncommon

    we are whole

[embrace the whole of God]


Sing the new song to the Lord

Sing the new song to our Lord

 (Passionately)  —you compose life

    in your key

—life together


—no veil present

    distance gone

[embrace the whole of God]


Sing the new life with the Lord

Sing the new life with our Lord

—you are present

    and involved

—we be present

    now involved

[embrace the whole of God]


Sing this new song to you Lord

Sing this new life with you Lord

  (Joyfully)  —the veil is gone

    the veil is gone

[embrace the whole of God]


[embrace the whole of God]


[embrace the whole of God]







[1] T. Dave Matsuo, Jesus into Paul: Embodying the Theology & Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel, 8-9.

[2] Paul Bloom, “The Moral Life of Babies.” Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/ 09babies-t.html. To view a video of the baby studies in action, go to http://www.nytimes.com/video/2010/ 05/04/magazine/1247467772000/can-babies-tell-right-from-wrong.html.

[3] A YouTube post narrated by Dr. Edward Tronick of University of Massachusetts Boston shows an interaction between a year-old baby girl and her mother interacting face to face. They are thoroughly engaged together. Then the mother makes her face “still” or blank. It’s painful to watch as the baby tries unsuccessfully to re-engage her mother out of her still face, becomes distressed, and ends up crying (which was painful to watch). Online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0.

               Other studies about babies at Yale University have shown babies reacting favorably to helpful puppets while rejecting mean unhelpful puppets. Http://yaledailynews.com/crosscampus/2010/05/05/oh-baby-infants-are-moral-bloom-tells-nyt-mag. These results are discussed by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, “Bred in the Bone: The Moral Life of Babies,” online http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/magazine/ 09babies-t.html. Accessed Dec. 18, 2012.

[4] See a fuller discussion about Jesus’ key interaction with Nicodemus in T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 156-59, 188.

[5] See a fuller discussion of the kingdom of heaven in T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 175-79.

[6] For a helpful discussion on the Beatitudes for identity formation of Jesus’ followers, I recommend T. Dave Matsuo, Jesus into Paul: Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel, 221-240.

[7] For an important discussion about Paul’s involvement with Peter in this passage, see T. Dave Matsuo, The Whole of Paul and the Whole in His Theology: Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process, 16-17.

[8] The temptations of Jesus need to be understood in terms of reductionism and lies from Satan. For a helpful discussion, see T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 19-23.

[9] T. Dave Matsuo, Jesus into Paul: Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel, 207.

[10] This impoverished outcome is parallel to the scholarly field of biblical interpretation, in which a vast quantity of referential information has come from a variety of ‘criticisms’—which are various interpretive lenses that pay attention to only particular fragments of God’s relational self-disclosures (historical facts, literary elements, etc).

[11] By Kary A. Kambara and T. Dave Matsuo, © 2012. Printable sheet music available online at http://4X12. org.





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