The Feelings of Jesus' Heart
His Whole Person's Affective Narrative
Chapter 3 His Trajectories
“I, the one speaking to you, am he.”
“This way you will know and understand that
the Father is in me and I in the Father.”
“I am in them and you are in me,
so that they may be made completely one….”
When Jesus leaves Judea and goes to Galilee, he has to travel through Samaria. So, he comes to a town in Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus sits down at the well around noon, because he is worn out from his journey. He is alone in his weariness since his disciples have gone into town to buy food.
In spite of how he is affected, he is not in a desperate physical state. His thirst, however, is urgent, and his palpable need opens up a unique (read uncommon) opportunity to make a deep relational connection, which would constitute the strategic shift in God’s trajectory of covenant relationship.
Jesus vulnerably initiates relation involvement with a Samaritan woman that counters the prevailing religious and cultural norms. She likely is suspicious of his intentions; and given her marital history, she is even ostracized by other Samaritan women and thus came to draw water alone at midday. So, she openly raises the question, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me?” (For Jews don’t associate with Samaritans.)
This curious interaction is not an accidental encounter that happens by chance. In his designed purpose, Jesus feels strongly in his resolve to enact his function set apart from the existing common, which distinctly embodies his uncommon (read holy) identity. He opens his heart to this marginalized woman, and she responds vulnerably to complete this relational connection heart to heart. The relational outcome is an equalized relational process without stratification, which determines the involvement for anyone desiring to worship God in covenant relationship. “This time has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the only persons the Father seeks to be involved in relationship together heart to heart.”
Taking this all in, the woman shares with Jesus her belief: “I know that the Messiah is coming to fulfill this.” Without hesitation, Jesus responds with warm assurance for her: “I, who speak vulnerably to you, am he—the one you and others have been waiting for.” With this direct revelation, the strategic shift of God’s trajectory in response to all persons, peoples, tribes, nations and languages becomes the experiential truth and relational reality for persons like her to respond to. She excitedly claims Jesus’ gospel for herself, and then she goes back to her people to proclaim what Jesus intimately revealed. As a result of her witness, many in that town believe in Jesus, and many more believe in him because of making further connection with him to listen to his words directly.
As Jesus’ pivotal interaction with the Samaritan woman is ending, his disciples return with food and are shocked that he is talking with her. Yet, as they will typically do, no one shares their feelings with him. Instead of openly pursuing what’s primary, they stay at relational distance by acting on the secondary, and thus keep urging him to eat something. In spite of physically being worn out, he clarifies and corrects them about what is primary. Then he redirects their focus to the joint mission of his true disciples to gather together the fruit of their relational work that plants, sows and reaps his gospel—just as signified in his revealing to the Samaritan woman the strategic shift of God’s trajectory in response to the human condition. Underlying this relational process of what’s primary, Jesus’ trajectory will unfold further and even deeper. And as it unfolds, his feelings will never diminish because of his physical condition. Indeed, his feelings will intensify as his trajectory deepens to further reveal its significance to the heart of God.
After his significant time in Samaria, he leaves there for Galilee. In anticipation of what will soon be his experience, Jesus testifies that a prophet has no honor in his own country. This will have some effect on him but definitely not define his identity and determine his function. Until then news about him spreads throughout the entire vicinity. The Galileans welcome him because they have seen everything he did in Jerusalem during the festival. He proclaims without moderation that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” He also teaches in their synagogues and is praised by everyone.
He goes again to Cana in Galilee, where he earlier turned water into wine. A royal official has an ill son at Capernaum. When this man hears that Jesus has come into Galilee, he pursues Jesus and pleads with him to come down and heal his son, since he is about to die. Jesus tells him frankly with mixed feelings, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” He has a disdain for such faith, but he also feels compassion for the man’s sad situation. The official persists with Jesus to “come down before my boy dies.” Jesus responds in his compassion and tells him, “Go, your son will live.” The official takes Jesus at his word and goes home to discover that it happened just as Jesus said. So, he and his whole household entrust themselves to Jesus. This signifies Jesus’ second sign that deepens his trajectory with these relational connections.
Then he goes back to Nazareth, where he was brought up. As usual, he enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and stands up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah is given to him, and he reads with conviction from Isaiah 61:1-2. As everyone in the synagogue is focused on him, he says with even greater conviction, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
They are all speaking well of him, on the one hand, and are amazed by the gracious words that come from his mouth. Yet, on the other hand, they say with skepticism, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” No doubt they want visible proof of Jesus’ significance as he enacted in Capernaum. Their bias, however, already precludes their embracing Jesus in his full identity, and limits their acceptance of him to merely another hometown boy.
Jesus has already alluded to their rejection of him. Given this reality, Jesus further reveals that God’s purpose for his prophets is not shaped, defined or determined by the wishes, desires or even needs of the local population. When they hear this, everyone in the synagogue becomes enraged and they forcefully drive him out of town to kill him. But Jesus eludes them and simply goes on his way, without the anxiety of escaping as would be expected. Yet, even though he expected to be rejected by his hometown, this experience has some effect on his heart. And he always let his heart be affected.
After his abrupt departure from Nazareth, Jesus goes to live in Capernaum by the sea, which fulfills further the words from the prophet Isaiah (Isa 9:1-2). A crowd pursues him as he walks along the Sea of Galilee. He sees two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and are washing their nets. So, he takes this opportunity to get into one of the boats, which belongs to Simon, and asks him to go out a little further from the land. Then he sits down and is teaching the crowds from the boat. But Jesus also has a deeper purpose for this opportunity.
When he finishes speaking to the crowd, he says confidently to Simon Peter, “Go out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter replies skeptically, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” When Simon and his brother Andrew do this, they catch so great amount of fish that their nets begin to tear. So, they call to their partners (James and his brother John) in the other boat to help them. Then they fill both boats so full of fish that they begin to sink. This experience penetrates Simon Peter’s heart, and he falls at Jesus’ knees saying, “Go away from me because I’m a sinful man, Lord.” Jesus tells Peter tenderly, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” Jesus uses this opportunity for his deeper purpose, and with undeniable conviction he calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to “follow my person in relationship together.” At this pivotal juncture, they let go of their common identity and function to follow him—with a new identity and function, though not without issues and problems.
Together they go into Capernaum, and immediately Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath in order to teach. With the depth of his feelings clearly revealed non-verbally, those present are astonished at his teaching. Why? Because he is teaching them in qualitative-relational terms as one who has authority, and not quantitatively like the scribes. This is indicative of the redemptive change that Jesus is constituting. Later, he will confront such teachers with the common issue, “Why is my language not clear to you?”
Jesus is consciously aware that the premier adversary of redemptive change being constituted in his followers is Satan. He is always on the alert for Satan and his cohorts’ blatantly overt actions, but also of their subtly covert influence. As Satan indicated after tempting Jesus, he always looks for other opportunities to assert his counter-relational work. In the synagogue, for example, a man is there with an unclean demonic spirit who cries out with a loud voice: “Leave us alone! What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Indeed, the Uncommon One is clearly distinguished embodied among the common. But Jesus rebukes him and says, “Be silent and come out of him.” And the unclean spirit throws the man into convulsions, shouts with a loud voice, and comes out of him.
assertion of Jesus’ actions amazes all who are present. And they say to
each other bewildered: “What is this message? A new teaching with
authority and power unseen before! For he commands the unclean spirits
and they obey him.” So, news about him begins to spread throughout the
entire vicinity of Galilee. Such reports, however, have yet to grasp
the gospel Jesus is enacting.
Very early in the morning, while it is still dark, Jesus gets up and makes his way to a deserted place. This is always a special time for him to communicate intimately in his relationship with the Father; and Jesus is always more passionate about this than any other time or matter. In the primacy of relationship, he never allows anything else to have a greater priority. That’s why his heart is not fragmented by others or diluted by situations.
Meanwhile, Simon and his companions search for Jesus, and when they find him they say, “Everyone is looking for you.” When the crowds also find him, they try to keep him from leaving them. But he clarifies for them with uncompromising resolve: “It is necessary for me to proclaim my gospel about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I am sent for this purpose. This is why I have come, so don’t try to possess me for yourselves.” Thus, in his pedagogical approach, Jesus teaches in the synagogues of others towns and cares for their needs. When news about him spreads throughout Syria, they bring to him all those who are afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pain, the demon possessed, anyone. Jesus compassionately heals them, even if it didn’t result in the primacy of relationship together. Soon large crowds with mixed motives follow him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. Nevertheless, Jesus neither loses nor veers from his primary focus. His whole person remains whole in his identity and function while in the midst of these fragmenting dynamics. Therefore, in spite of all the surrounding influences he is subjected to, his trajectory stays on target.
While in one of the towns, a man with leprosy comes up and kneels before Jesus begging him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches him tenderly without shame for contacting a leper, “I am willing, be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy leaves him and he is made clean. As usual, Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone about his cleansing but to use it as an opportunity to get closer to God. Yet, the man couldn’t restrain his excitement and begins to proclaim it widely and spread the news—resulting in Jesus being unable to enter a town openly. He often withdraws to deserted places and prays, yet large crowds pursue him from everywhere to hear him and be healed.
Though Jesus’ popularity never diminishes his trajectory, it tends to obscure the human condition in surrounding sociocultural contexts. This condition operates with injustices and a lack of peace—that is, not the common peace of merely the absence of conflict, but rather the shalom of well-being in wholeness that only Jesus brings (Jn 14:27). This existing reality needing redemptive change, thus required Jesus’ trajectory to go deeper to constitute the tactical shift of God’s trajectory.
At a pivotal interaction, Jesus is teaching in his own town. So many people gather around him—including Pharisees and teachers of the law who have come from every village in Galilee and Judea, and also from Jerusalem—that there is no more room, not even in the doorway. As Jesus speaks God’s word to them, some men come to him carrying a paralytic on a stretcher. Since they are not able to bring the man to Jesus because of the crowd, they go up on the roof and lower him on the stretcher through the roof tiles into the middle of the crowd before Jesus. The trust they put in Jesus really touches him, so Jesus tells the man unequivocally, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus’ redemptive words raise the eyebrows of the scribes and Pharisees sitting there, stirring questions in their hearts: “Why does he speak like this? Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus perceives their skepticism and somewhat angrily confronts them: “Why are you thinking these things in your heart? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up, take your matt, and walk’?” Jesus isn’t making qualitative claims and subjective statements that have no objective basis. So, he uses this interaction as a pivotal opportunity to reveal how his trajectory is going deeper to impact the surrounding contexts. Obviously, the former statement could be made by anyone without having a valid basis of verification, but the latter could only be stated if verified before your eyes. Jesus integrates the two choices to demonstrate how his (and God’s) trajectory is going deeper into the human context to affect human minds and hearts.
“But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he warmly addresses the paralyzed man—“I affirm your whole person: Get up, take your stretcher, and go home made whole from inner out.” Immediately he gets up before them, picks up what he had been lying on, and goes home glorifying God. As a result, those present are filled with awe saying, “We have never witnessed anything like this”—and they give glory to God for what Jesus reveals. Yet, skepticism still persists among some, which exposes their biased lens that refuses to accept the facts of Jesus that he enacts vulnerably before them. A moment earlier, Jesus identified such bias as “evil thinking in your hearts.” This is the encompassing sin of reductionism that most don’t pay attention to and thus don’t account for in their practice of faith. The deeper trajectory now enacted by Jesus, however, directly addresses this scope of sin and holds all accountable—a relational process resulting in redemptive change for those who respond to Jesus’ heart-level presence and relational involvement.
After this, Jesus goes out to intentionally focus his trajectory on a person who both participates in the injustice of that time as well as is subjected to it. Jesus connects with a tax collector named Levi (Matthew) sitting at the tax office, and he says to him “Follow me.” So, leaving everything behind, Levi gets up and begins to follow him. On the surface, Jesus’ call appears inconsistent with what would be expected for his disciples. Yet, this is a key indicator that Jesus’ trajectory is deepening. Since Levi is ostracized by the Jewish community, Jesus purposely involves himself in a grand banquet hosted by Levi at his house. Many tax collectors and sinners are also eating with Jesus and his disciples. Thus, Levi represents a key addition to his chosen disciples in the tactical shift, which equalizes them without the constraints of their sociocultural distinctions.
When the Pharisees and their scribes see this “unholy” communion, they complain to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat and drink with those who need to be ostracized?” Now when Jesus hears their complaint, he challenges their assumptions and corrects their bias: “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to turn around. So, go and learn what this means for your faith practice: I desire mercy and not sacrifice; live in what’s primary, not secondary.”
Along with sacrifices, fasting is another key part of the Jewish collective’s infrastructure. So, people come and ask Jesus a legitimate question: “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples eat and drink instead of fasting?” With excitement for this opportunity, the conviction of his answer puts this issue into the relational context of God’s big picture, which then brings to the light the relational process at the heart of it. That is to say, “as long as the groom is with the wedding guests, they don’t fast sadly but celebrate together.” What Jesus alludes to here is the redemptive change of the Jewish infrastructure, which signifies the old dying in order for the new to rise. Jesus makes unmistakable, however, that “the new wine” is incompatible with the old, and that it will not emerge unless the old is discarded. Regardless of the experiential truth and relational reality of the new wine constituted by Jesus, there are still those laboring under the illusion that “the old is better”—whereby assumptions are made to misdirect or block Jesus’ trajectory from completing his tactical shift. Such efforts always affect him—especially as they emerge even among his own disciples—but his feelings simply intensify with greater resolve.
Later, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem because a Jewish festival takes place. Jesus doesn’t reject the Jewish collective and participates in it, but not according to its infrastructure. By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool called Bethesda, where a large number of the disabled (blind, lame and paralyzed) lay hoping to be healed by the special water in the pool. One man who has been disabled for 38 years is there. When Jesus sees him lying there and realizes he has already been there a long time, Jesus feels for him saying, “Do you want to get well?” In that context and time, Jesus isn’t inquiring but opening a unique opportunity to respond to the man. The disabled man answers, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool before someone else goes down ahead of me.” With a warm and tender heart, Jesus tells him, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.” Instantly, the man gets well, picks up his mat and starts to walk. Such healing by Jesus has been witnessed before, but the time of this healing sets the stage for his deeper purpose.
Now, that day happens to be the Sabbath, and so the Jews negatively tell the man who was healed, “This is the Sabbath. The law prohibits you from picking up your mat.” When the Jews discover that Jesus enacted his healing, they begin persecuting Jesus because he is doing these things on the Sabbath. This opens up a further opportunity to put the Jewish context and infrastructure even deeper into the whole context of God’s trajectory that Jesus embodies and enacts.
So, Jesus makes his heart even more vulnerable and responds to them saying, “The whole truth is, the Son is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing. For however the Father functions, the Son likewise also functions. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything, even greater works than these so that you will be amazed. And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to whom he wants. The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone, I say emphatically, who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. …I can do nothing on my own apart from the Father. I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of him who sent me. …You sent messages to John, and he testified to the truth. I don’t receive human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved and made whole. John was a burning and shinning lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.
“But I have a greater testimony than John’s because of the works that the Father has given me to fulfill. These very works testify about me that the Father has sent me. The Father who sent me has himself testified about me. You have not heard his voice at any time, and you haven’t seen his form. Sadly, you don’t have his word planted in your hearts, because you don’t trust the one he sent. This is the sad reality even though you diligently study the Scriptures and presume you have eternal life by them. And yet they testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life (zoe, qualitative life together).
“I know you—that you have no love for God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and yet you don’t accept me. If someone else comes in their own name, you will accept him. How can you believe, since you accept glory from one another but don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God? In truth, I will not accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe my words?”
As Jesus vulnerably pours out his heart, he both reveals the heart of the triune God and exposes their hearts in the outer-in simulations of their faith and their epistemic illusions. His trajectory will continue to unfold in this integral process that is both immeasurable and inescapable.
On a Sabbath he is going through the grain fields. His disciples are hungry and begin to pick and eat some heads of grain. When the Pharisees see this, they say to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Even though Jesus is annoyed by their continued pushback and invalid criticism, here is another opportunity to clarify their theology and correct their practice needed for their redemptive change. So, he carefully reviews the Scripture with them to remind them of Jewish history: that David and his cohorts were hungry and then entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for them but only for the priests; that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and yet are innocent according to the Law. “Pay attention and take notice, one greater than the temple is here to bring redemptive change to that context and infrastructure. If you embraced my thelo to enact the primary over the secondary, you would not condemn persons who live accordingly. This is the experiential truth and relational reality from God being enacted before you: The Sabbath was made for humans and not humans for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
This is the new that rises when the old undergoes redemptive change. And Jesus’ trajectory unfolds for its completion, notably among the collective of God’s people and their infrastructure. In particular, the theology and practice of the Jewish collective had become an end in itself by composing a Rule of Law for its infrastructure such that it merely used observing the Sabbath, fasting and cleansing as identity markers to define them in the human context. This can be a subtle process that Jesus always brings to the forefront for God’s people to discover the identity they assume for their faith.
A similar scenario happens on another Sabbath, in which Jesus is teaching in the synagogue again. A man is there whose right hand is shriveled. Expectantly, the scribes and Pharisees are watching Jesus acutely to see if they can further charge him with breaking the law on the Sabbath. Their behavior arouses Jesus’ anger and also grieves him because of the hardness of their hearts. So, he tells the man with the shriveled hand to get up and stand here in the middle. Then, Jesus pointedly faces them with the question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Jesus doesn’t expect them to answer his question, not because it is rhetorical but because doing so will prevent them from charging him with being unlawful. Warmly, Jesus tells the man to stretch his hand, and his hand is restored. Immediately, the Pharisees are filled with rage and start plotting with the Herodians against him, how to exterminate him.
Jesus is well aware of this and simply withdraws with his disciples to the sea. And in spite of the turmoil his presence generates in others, large crowds from all the surrounding regions follow him for the good he is doing. Accordingly, whenever the unclean spirits see him, they fall down before him and cry out, “You are the Son of God!” And he strongly warns them not to make him known, so that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah is fulfilled: “Here is my beloved in whom I delight…he will proclaim justice to the nations…until he brings justice to victory” (Isa 42:1-4).
And as he brings justice to victory, his true disciples must be involved with him in this fight for justice. This is clearly established in his most significant teaching, coming next.
During those days Jesus goes to the mountains to pray and spend all night communicating with the Father. The primacy of this time and their relationship together are irreplaceable for Jesus to share the feelings of his heart and to attend to all the ways he’s been affected. When daylight comes, he gathers together his twelve disciples and begins to teach them the essential foundation for the theology and practice of his true disciples.
When the identity and function of his disciples forms in wholeness, “you are the light of the world when you don’t diminish this identity; and you are the salt of the earth when you don’t reduce your function.” Jesus is emphatic about their identity and function living in wholeness in the primacy of their relationship together. And his manifesto continues to outline this relational context and process based only on his relational terms.
Jesus clarifies his relational terms and corrects other terms used as a substitute, which creates a bias in the function of faith practice in daily life. His terms are for covenant relationship together, which converges in God’s law. These imperative terms are both qualitative and relational, thus no amount of the quantitative can fulfill them—the shape and illusion commonly used to obey them. Therefore, Jesus proceeds to clarify the integrity of his terms and to correct assumptions about being obedient.
First of all, God’s terms for covenant relationship are not subject to revisions, even though in existential practice they are subjected to diverse interpretations. Thus, with absolute resolve Jesus states that he has no intention of minimizing or even doing away with God’s lawful terms “but to fulfill them (i.e., pleroo, to complete) for the wholeness of covenant relationship together.” Then to distinguish these qualitative-relational terms, Jesus proceeds to compare their primary function with contradictory practice that only has some secondary appearance of obeying the law. The relational outcome of the former gets to the heart of persons and that depth level of involvement in relationships together. The latter results in relational consequences that fragment, separate or disable relationships from the design and purpose that the Father constitutes for the children in his family. When his qualitative-relational terms are embodied in their identity and enacted in their function, they will “be perfect (teleios, i.e., complete, fully developed in wholeness) in the very likeness of your heavenly Father” (5:48).
Underlying the above practice of the law is the functional dynamic that defines the identity of the person, which Jesus now addresses in everyday life. Persons either function from outer in, with a self-consciousness focused on secondary (or less significant) matters. This is the dynamic that prevails in the practice of faith—a practice that subtly revolves around the appearance of self to others, even when an act appears to be for others. Or persons function from the inner out, with a consciousness of the heart of their person focused on primary matters. This is the dynamic, the qualitative-relational dynamic, which connects with the Father as well as with others in the heart-level involvement of relationship together—appearances notwithstanding. Therefore, with his contempt for the former dynamic, Jesus takes his disciples to the heart of his teaching—expressing his empathy for their struggles living in the latter dynamic, “Don’t worry…” (6:25-34). When they understand what’s primary to God, then their person can function in this primacy to experience the wholeness that God gives in response to them. But they must also understand that the inner-out dynamic is nonnegotiable with anything less or any substitutes—“For what is important to you, there your heart will be also” (6:21)—and that God’s relational process and outcome are irreducible. Thus, in his empathy Jesus is uncompromising, with nothing less and no substitutes, “No one can serve two masters” (6:24).
Then, in the last part of his manifesto (Mt 7), Jesus clarifies the specific context that distinguishes God’s terms for their identity and function. That context (“what is holy,” 7:6) in which this relational process is enacted is set apart from the common surrounding contexts, because this is the relational context of the uncommon God. Therefore, to navigate God’s relational context involves a different process than what is commonly engaged, which then brings out the contrast and conflict between them. His disciples need to fully understand this essential distinction, and that the two are incompatible and cannot be combined or interchanged. Moreover, they will “be judged by the same standards with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use” (7:2). This uncommon relational context requires a relational process uncommon from the prevailing way relationships are conducted. That challenges and confronts, in particular, how faith is practiced with a diverse approach that in effect cultivates simulations in their identity and enables illusions of their function (7:13). Jesus withholds no consequence from such a relational process: “In spite of all your claims to your acts of faith in my name, I never knew you in the relational context and process of my terms for relationship together” (7:22-23).
His rejection of a diverse approach to discipleship is encompassing. Even though its growth and development may appear to be similar to his terms, such similarities would merely reflect a surface observation commonly made instead of going deeper. Because of this common condition widely engaged, Jesus further shares the feelings in his heart to make his manifesto imperative for his disciples with this nonnegotiable conclusion:
“Therefore, every person, who listens to my words composed in relational language and lives by them in their heart from inner out, will be analogous to a wise person who built their house on a rock-solid foundation. And no matter how severe the surrounding conditions, it didn’t collapse because of its irreducible foundation. But, in contrast, everyone, who hear these words of mine and doesn’t respond to them from their heart, will be analogous to a foolish person who built their house on the sand. When severe conditions pounded that house, it collapsed in an unforgettable experience.”
In other words, his manifesto cannot be taken lightly, set aside until later, or simply filed away in a mental folder of Jesus’ teachings. His disciples are accountable for the terms of all his words—always with nothing less and no substitutes.
When Jesus finishes sharing the words from his heart, the others besides the disciples who heard him are amazed with the heart-level integrity of his teachings. Up to now, they have not witnessed such depth in theological education. Yet, what kind and level of change Jesus’ qualitative words bring forth in their lives remains an open question.
After Jesus comes down from the mountain, large crowds follow him as he enters Capernaum. A centurion, who loves the Jewish nation and built them a synagogue, comes to Jesus, pleading with him, “Lord, my valued servant is lying home paralyzed in terrible agony and about to die.” Jesus responds kindly, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replies, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man with authority, with soldiers under me who obey my commands, and a servant who does what he’s told to do.” When Jesus hears the centurion’s heart poured out to him, he is deeply touched and declares to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such a great faith. I share with you the reality that many will come from all over to participate in the banquet with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But these subjects of the kingdom will be thrown out, because they don’t truly belong in God’s family.” Then he says heart to heart in loving response to the centurion, “Go forth! Just as you trusted me to act, it will be fulfilled.” And his servant is healed at that very moment. “Just say the word, Jesus,” indeed is the reciprocal relational involvement that Jesus desires, expects and holds accountable from his disciples.
Afterward, Jesus is on his way to a town called Nain, with his disciples and a large crowd traveling with him. Just as he approaches the town gate, a dead man is being carried out by a large procession from the town. He was his mother’s only son, and she is a widow. When the Lord sees her, his heart suffers by her deep pain; his empathy isn’t just a mental process but always vulnerably involves his heart. So, he responds in tender love and says, “Don’t weep.” Then he touches the open coffin, and the pallbearers stop. Compassionately, he says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The dead son sits up and begins to speak. Then, in his family love Jesus reconnects the son with his mother. She simply receives him back joyfully, without wondering what just happened. But the others are in awe and glorify God, saying “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people.” This report about Jesus spreads throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
The reports about Jesus are not always reliable, with misinformation conflating with the facts to misrepresent the qualitative-relational significance of his identity and function. Perhaps because of this, John the Baptist wants verification directly from the source, so he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you indeed the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answers them with the experiential truth and relational reality of the facts that he is enacting, which when seen and heard without a predisposed bias will verify the identity and function of his whole person.
After John’s messengers leave with the indisputable truth of Jesus, Jesus begins to speak to the crowds about John’s uncommon lifestyle and ministry. His significance cannot be diminished, because he prepared the way for Jesus’ mission to unfold. Moreover, Jesus declares, on the one hand, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater that John.” On the other hand, “but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” In other words, Jesus negates the value given to human distinctions and equalizes all persons in God’s family. His declaration forecasts the redemptive change that he will complete in the tactical shift of God’s trajectory in the surrounding collective context and infrastructure to equalize God’s family embodied in the church.
Given the existing condition of the collective context, Jesus then openly shares the mixed feelings in his heart. “To what should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like. They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other in different ways; but each way doesn’t evoke the appropriate response. In a similar way, John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet, the wisdom of your ways will be justified only by the truth—the Truth embodied before you, which many consider to be an inconvenient truth.”
Then Jesus’ trajectory intensifies overtly on the offensive. He boldly begins to denounce the towns where most of his miracles were done. Why? Because they do not repent or enact the turnaround necessary to change. “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were enacted in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented because of who and what was revealed to them. But I tell you directly, it will be more favorable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles enacted in you were done in Sodom, it would still dwell until today. But I tell you directly, it will be more favorable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
(In this biblical history, it seems as if the generations have evolved into a Scripture Alzheimer’s—constrained in a here-and-now culture forgetful of God’s ongoing presence and involvement.)
At that time Jesus also firmly reassures others: “Come to me, all of you who are weary from the human condition and burdened by the surrounding context, and I will give you rest from inner out. Take up my terms and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your whole person from inner out. For my terms are unpretentious and my burden is not overbearing.”
Another pivotal interaction reveals Jesus’ trajectory penetrating the inequity of the prevailing culture and infrastructure. One of the Pharisees invites him to eat at his house. And a woman in the town, who was a labeled sinner, finds out that Jesus is reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. Even though that setting is off-limits to her, she brings an alabaster jar of perfume (a means of her vocation) and goes behind him at his feet. As her heart pours out weeping, she begins to wash his feet with her tears, then wipes his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume. Jesus fully receives her without embarrassment or shame.
When the Pharisee who invited him sees this, he says mumbling to himself, “This woman, if he is a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she’s a sinner!”
Well aware of the culture clash that is happening, Jesus replies to him without hesitation, “Simon, I have something to say to you for your honest assessment.” Simon agrees, “OK, teacher.”
“A creditor had two debtors. One owed the equivalent of 500 days of wages, and the other only 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?”
Simon answers intellectually, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” Jesus stares at him and says, “You have judged correctly.” Then, turning to the woman, he emphasizes to Simon this exposing contradiction: “Can you see this woman without your biased lens? Contrary to your culture and vigorous practice, I entered your house and you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. Furthermore, you gave me no customary kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. Moreover, contrary to cultural stipulation, you didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume. Therefore, I tell you unequivocally, her many sins have been forgiven, which is unmistakably verified by how much she loves me. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little—no matter how rigorous your faith.”
Then, Jesus warmly, tenderly and deeply says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your trusting faith has saved you. Go forth from here in the peace only I give—my peace as wholeness of your whole person from inner out.”
And those who are at the table with him begin to say with puzzlement among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” But they don’t address the issue of how much they have been forgiven and thereby love.
As Jesus more deeply enacts the tactical shift of God’s trajectory, he further counters the discriminatory culture and inequitable infrastructure. One significant outcome from his relational process is the turnaround occurring at the gender level. As he travels from one town and village to another, he declares the good news of the kingdom of God—which also includes addressing the bad news in the surrounding context. God’s kingdom isn’t a concept or a mere future hope, but Jesus embodies it with his inner circle of disciples that includes some women: women such as Mary Magdalene (seven demons were cast out of her), Joanna the wife of Chuza (Herod’s servant), Susanna, and many others who are supporting this new existential body with their own possessions. The role of women has often been either ignored or downplayed, but not by Jesus who affirmed them at the heart of his witnesses. This involves the redemptive change critical to his tactical shift, which continues to be the change lacking in many Christian contexts.
With all the attention forming around Jesus and the agitation also created by his actions, his biological family seek to restrain him because people are saying “He’s out of his mind.” During this time, a demon possessed man who is blind and unable to speak is brought to Jesus. He heals him, so that the man could both speak and see—once again astounding the crowds to say “Could this be the Son of David?” But, when the scribes and Pharisees hear this, they assert, “This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”
In rebuttal, Jesus declares: “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? For this very reason they will be your judges. Therefore, if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then, and only then, the kingdom of God has come upon you. And thus, ‘Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.’ Consequently, I assert unequivocally, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven, either in the present or the future.”
“Accordingly, every tree is defined by its fruit. So, you divisive brood! How can you speak good things, much less act in love, when your heart is unclean. For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Understand this existential reality that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every worthless word they speak”—end of debate.
Then the scribes and Pharisees shift their tactics and want a sign from the Teacher. Jesus isn’t fooled and further exposes them for where their hearts are. So, he refuses to give them a sign, since they already have indicators from Scripture that all point to him. After setting the record straight and putting them in their place, he further reinforces the experiential truth and relational reality of who constitutes his family: “My brothers, sisters and mother are those who listen carefully and enact the word of God from their hearts—relationally involved in reciprocal relationship together with me, where I am.”
While intensifying the tactical shift of God’s trajectory, Jesus enacts an unexpected shift in his teaching of God’s words. Since his words constitute the functional essence of life, they must be understood in his relational language in order to gain this significance. The common practice is to take the words from God as composed in referential language to transmit information about God. With this lens, God’s words are diminished, lacking the depth of God’s heart, and thereby are seen more shallowly to reinforce or sustain a perception of God’s function as from outer in, which humans then bear in likeness. To counter this approach to his teaching, Jesus shifts to the use of parables in order to communicate with those truly listening to God’s words in relational language, and who respond to them accordingly.
As a very large crowd gathers around him by the sea, Jesus begins to teach them many things in parables. “Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path; it was trampled on and the birds of the sky devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had not taken root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it, so it didn’t produce fruit. Still other seed fell on good ground and it grew up—producing fruit that increased thirty, sixty and a hundred times.” Then, he calls out emphatically, “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.”
In their puzzled thoughts the disciples ask him about this shift in his teaching and the meaning of the parables. So, he clarifies this reality:
“The language mysteries about the kingdom of God involve a relational process, which require a relational response to know; and that’s why they have been given for you to know. But to those not relationally involved it has not been given. That’s why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, ‘You will be ever hearing but not really understand; you will be ever seeing but not really perceiving. For these people’s minds are preoccupied and their hearts are distant’ (Isa 6:9-10).”
So, he says to his disciples: “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable in my teaching? The sower’s seed is the word of God. Some are like the word sown on the path. They hear it favorably, then Satan works to negate the word they heard. And others are like seed sown on rocky ground. When they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. But the word is not received deep enough to take root in their hearts, so they believe for a while and fall away in a time of testing. Still others, on the one hand, are the ones who readily hear the word, but, on the other hand, because of the thorns in their surrounding contexts that determine the worries of this age, the illusion of wealth, and the desires for other things, they are constrained and thus become unfruitful in their faith. That leaves only the word sown on good ground, distinguishing those who listen and understand the word with an honest and good heart, whereby they are vulnerably involved in relationship together with the Word for a fruitful life.”
Then his words focus directly on his disciples in the relational process that integrally defines their identity and determines their function. “No one, after lighting a lamp (i.e., distinguishing their identity) covers it with a basket or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand so that those who come in may see its light (i.e., distinguishing their function). For no identity is concealed that won’t be revealed, nor function hidden that won’t be exposed and brought to light. Therefore, if you have ears to hear my words, then listen carefully. Pay close attention to every word I communicate in relational language. By the measure you use, that measure will define and determine the results in your everyday life.”
After that, he presents another parable to them in order to understand their context together: “The kingdom of God is analogous to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat and left—that is, darnel, a weed similar in appearance to wheat in the early stages. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. The farmer’s servants reported to him, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in the field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ He told them without hesitation, ‘An enemy did this.’ The angry servants replied, ‘So, do you want us to go and pull out the weeds?’ He stated firmly, ‘Thank you, but no. When you pull up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest. At that time I’ll tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, and then collect the wheat for my barn’.”
Then Jesus switches from this contextual issue to the process for growing his family: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. The fact is that the mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground, but when grown it’s taller than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.” This process is a relational process and its outcome is a relational outcome.
Jesus adds another parable to reinforce this process: “The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into 50lbs of flour until all of it was leavened.” Parables become his main mode of teaching, so that what was spoken through the prophet is fulfilled, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will declare things hidden from human thinking since the creation of the world.”
His disciples finally have the courage to ask him, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He responds telling them to take in the context of God’s big (read whole) picture: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the surrounding context of the world; and the good seed’s growth, those are the children of God’s family. The weeds are the children of Satan, who sowed them.” Both sets of children live co-existing in conflict, with the influence of the latter always engaged in counter-relational work. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. The Son of Man will send out his cohorts, and they will complete the relational consequences for the latter group and fulfill the relational outcome for the former group—the righteous who will shine like the sun in their Father’s family.
“Therefore, let anyone who currently has open ears listen carefully to my words in relational language and thereby respond in likeness. And be assured that the measure you use for your identity and function, and for your theology and practice, will be the measure you receive for your results—nothing more and likely something less.”
After he shares with them the parables of hidden treasure, the pearl of great value, and the net, he further asks them, “Have you understood all these things?” they answer him sheepishly, “Yes.” He adds expectantly, “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of God is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom treasures new and old.”
When Jesus finishes these parables, he goes out to further heal persons, cast out demons, and even raises a girl from death. One day he and his disciples get into a boat, and he directs them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they leave the crowd and set out, and as they are sailing Jesus falls asleep. A fierce windstorm comes down on the lake, so that they are in danger because the high waves are swamping the boat. But Jesus keeps sleeping through it all. So, they wake him up shouting in fear, “Master, Master, we’re going to die, don’t you care?”
Then he gets up, rebukes the wind and raging waves, and says to the sea, “Silence! Be still!”—and the wind ceases and there is a great calm. After that, he expresses his disappointment in them: “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith? Do you still have little or no trust in me?” And as they typically focused on the secondary at the expense of the primary, they are fearful and amazed, asking one another, “Who then is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Later, he goes to his hometown and his disciples follow him. When the Sabbath comes, he begins to teach in the synagogue. Many who hear him are astonished and say: “Where did this man get these things? What is this wisdom that has been given to him, and how are these miracles performed by his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” Thus, based on having such a common background, they are offended by his presumed arrogance that puts himself above them.
Not surprisingly, Jesus sadly says to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” Given this surrounding attitude, their unbelief puts limits on what Jesus enacts in that context. and though not unexpected, he is still amazed at their lack of trust and is disappointed in their missing out. His experience is a teaching loop for his followers that their biases predispose them to diverse measure of faith—the levels of which affect Jesus deeply in his heart, because he is vulnerably present and relationally involved by his whole person, nothing less and no substitutes.
As his trajectory extends to all the towns and villages, his heart is moved with compassion for the crowds, because they are distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. So, he says with urgency to his disciples: “The harvest is abundant, but faithful workers are few; therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out such workers into his harvest. The time for this essential action is now.”
This leads to Jesus gathering his twelve disciples in order to send them out in a trajectory with the power and authority over all demons and to heal diseases, along with proclaiming the kingdom of God. He also gives them specific instructions for their trajectory to be traveled lightly with the bare necessities and to make the proper adjustments to each context without being distracted by secondary matters or diminishing what’s primary. In other words, he wants their trajectory to be in likeness of his. That also means that they are not engaging just individuals out there, but also integrally addressing the collective context and infrastructure as well.
Jesus wants them to be fully aware of what they are intruding on. “Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise but don’t resort to trickery or shady tactics. Always beware of your adversaries, because they will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you are to speak. For you will be given what to say at the that time, because it won’t be about you but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Take me at my word and trust me.”
Furthermore, he wants them to understand the inequity of the surrounding context. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You, too, will be hated because of my name. But the person who endures through all this divisiveness will be made whole. This is what you can expect since you belong to me. A disciple is not above his teacher, or a slave above his master. It is well for a disciple to become like his teacher—though not in a rabbinic mode. So, just as I experienced, if they called the head of our house Beelzebul, how much more discrimination will target the members of my household! But don’t be afraid of them, because your loving Father is in control.
“Therefore, everyone who openly from their heart confesses about me to others, be assured that I will also affirm you from my heart before my Father in heaven. But whoever directly or indirectly denies me before others, even in their silence, I will also deny before my Father. That’s why you should never assume that I came to bring common peace on the earth. The unequivocal truth is that I bring a sword. [The symbol of a sword is not associated with Jesus, but that’s because his tactical shift of God’s trajectory is either not understood or selectively ignored, depending on one’s bias.] For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a person’s enemies will be the members of their own household [as Micah 7:6 predicted]. And the one who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and the one who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. That is to say, whoever doesn’t take up these hard realities to follow me is not worthy of me. These priorities will result in either loss or fulfillment for oneself.”
During this time King Herod hears about everything that is going on, because Jesus’ name has become well-known. Herod is perplexed about him, because some have said that John the Baptist has been raised from the dead—whom he had beheaded. Others say that Elijah appears, or that one of the ancient prophets has risen. Herod feels threatened, so he wants to see Jesus.
When the apostles return from their first mission journey without him, they report to Jesus all that they have done. He responds to them in loving care for their needs: “Come with me to a remote place away from the crowds and rest for a while.” He takes them and withdraws privately to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds find out, they follow after him. This opens further opportunities for Jesus to develop his disciples for their trajectory ahead. Later that day, his disciples approach him and say, “This place is deserted, and it’s already late. Send the crowd away so that they can go into the surrounding villages and countryside to buy themselves something to eat.” Jesus responds with a surprising challenge, “You give them something to eat.” This set in motion a mental process that would lead to their deeper development of their trust in Jesus, which will be at the heart of following him and being where he is in their discipleship. The outcome from this experience of feeding the 5,000 will also be amplified later by his feeding the 4,000.
When those among the 5,000 realize the sign Jesus has enacted, they say, “This truly is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” As Jesus becomes aware of their intentions to come and take him by force to make him king, he immediately makes his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side. Without fear or anxiety, he then simply withdraws from the crowd and goes to the mountain by himself to pray—his primary relational connection with the Father. Meanwhile, well into the night, the boat is in the middle of the sea battered by waves, as they strain at the oars because the wind is against them. Very early in the morning Jesus comes toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples see him actually walking on the water, they are terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they cry out in fear. But Jesus asserts strongly in response, “Have courage! It is I. Don’ be afraid.”
Impulsively, Peter shouts back, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus welcomes the opportunity in spite of Peter’s capriciousness and says “Come.” As expected, Peter readily steps out, but soon is distracted anxiously by the wind. When he sinks, he cries out a different tune to the Lord that deeply disappoints Jesus, “You of little faith, why do you doubt and not trust me because of circumstances? You have to learn what’s primary and submit your person to me in this relational process, or else your faith will have no significance to me and to others you intend to serve.”
When they get into the boat, the wind ceases. Even though the other disciples revere him as the Son of God, they are still completely astounded by this experience, because they have not understood about the loaves earlier. Sadly, instead, their hearts are hardened by keeping relational distance.
As they cross over and come to shore at Gennesaret, people immediately recognize him since his fame has preceded him. People hurry throughout that region and begin to carry the sick on mats to wherever they hear he is. No matter what village, town or country he goes to, they lay the sick in the marketplaces and beg him that they may touch just the end of his robe. Jesus doesn’t oppose such healing, so whoever touches it is healed. But he also feels sadness, because the outer things about him have become an end in themselves rather than a means for connection with his whole person. In this, even though their situations and circumstances are now better, they basically are still missing out on what’s most important. He will clarify and correct this for them in a pivotal interaction to unfold next. Moreover, even his disciples need to learn to be involved in this relational dynamic at the heart of his trajectory (1) in order to “follow my person…and be where I am,” (2) so that their trajectory will be in the qualitative image and relational likeness of his.
As Jesus’ trajectory penetrates deeper and deeper at the heart level, the following pivotal interaction is also significant for leading into his functional shift of God’s trajectory.
Jesus’ trajectory penetrates deeper into the heart level in order to distinguish unmistakably the function primary to God, and thus the integral function of who and what he embodies and how he enacts his whole person. The significance of his primary function is critical for his followers to understand, so that they will be involved with him at this level of function—the measure of which is not subject to variable engagement. Jesus clarifies and corrects this function in the next interaction, which becomes pivotal for who will or will not follow his person.
When the crowd see that neither Jesus nor his disciples are on this side of the sea, they get into boats to go to the other side looking for him. They know that the disciples went off in a boat the day before. So, when they find Jesus on the other side, they inquire, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”—not realizing he walked on the water.
Jesus answers with unveiling words from his heart that makes vulnerable anyone following him: “The honest reality is that you pursue me, not because you perceive the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Don’t work on the secondary things that will not endure but on the primary that is never ending, which the Son of Man will fulfill for you because God the Father has placed his full approval on him.”
They ask without deeper consideration, “What can we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus clarifies with pointed conviction that penetrates to the underlying function facing them: “There is only one work of God, the primacy of relational work, which is for you to trust from your heart in the one he has sent face to face on his relational terms.” On the defensive by this time, they try to put the responsibility back on Jesus, so they ask, “What sign, then, are you going to do so that we may see and believe you? What are you going to perform? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness—just as written that he gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Jesus rebuts, “The reality is that Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the person who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” With their lens still focused on the secondary, they appeal, “Sir, give us this bread always so we will not be without.”
Jesus asserts without hesitation, “I am the bread of life. No one who submits to me will ever be unfulfilled, and no one who trusts in me will ever be lacking again. But as I emphasize to you, you’ve seen me face to face, and yet you do not trust me. Everyone the Father gives me will submit to me, and the one who submits to me I will never push aside. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but to enact the will of him who sent me. For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son from inner out and trusts him will have this life in relationship together forever.”
Then, in their selective listening of Jesus’ words, the Jews start grumbling among themselves, because he said “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They conclude from their assumptions, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus penetrates deeper to distinguish the qualitative from the quantitative that he embodies: “Stop grumbling among yourselves and face this reality. No one can connect with me unless the Father who sent me leads them. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God’. So, everyone who has listened to and learns from the Father connects with me. Now learn also that no one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Therefore, listen and learn further from God, anyone who trusts in me receives the never-ending quality of life, because I am that qualitative bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. Here before you is the qualitative bread that was sent from God, so that anyone may partake of it and not die. I, the person face to face before you, am the living bread that came down from God. If anyone partakes of my person, they will never stop experiencing the qualitative outcome. Take to heart that the bread I give for the qualitative life of the world is my person embodied vulnerably for you to embrace heart to heart—nothing less and no substitutes.”
In the limits and constraints of their quantitative lens, the Jews argumentatively raise the issue, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus paints the qualitative picture of the relational process necessary for them to partake of the substance of his person, and thereby be intimately involved with him in reciprocal relationship together for this ongoing relational outcome—the experiential truth and relational reality of which are measured only by the substance of his person. (And simply partaking of the communion elements quantified by the bread of his flesh and the cup of his blood is never sufficient for this relational outcome.) “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who is nourished, nurtured and sustained by me will live anew because of my whole person. So, either keep partaking of the old and die, or take in the new and live.”
Therefore, when many of his so-called disciples heard his words, they concluded, “This teaching is hard. Who can accept it?”
Consciously aware of the grumbling among those disciples, he openly states: “Does this offend your sensibilities? Then, what if you were to observe the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life; the flesh doesn’t help this life process at all. The words that I have shared with you are of this Spirit and thus are life. Yet, there are some among you who won’t believe. This is why I told you earlier that no one can connect with me unless the Father has enabled them.”
Without room for negotiation according to their terms, many of those disciples turn back and no longer follow him. This is the ongoing tension, conflict and consequence between his ‘nothing less and no substitutes’ and their ‘anything less and any substitutes’. Given how pervasive the latter is, Jesus feels compelled to also ask the Twelve, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
Simon Peter speaks out first, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Yet, how deeply Peter has ingested Jesus words and digested his bread of life is an open question at this stage. Peter’s function still hasn’t shifted to the qualitative for his trajectory to be in likeness of Jesus’. So, the Twelve continue to follow Jesus even as they struggle with the relational terms and process that Jesus makes the function for his disciples in reciprocal relationship together. Their struggle will keep emerging as Jesus’ trajectory keeps going deeper.
In the common practice of faith, traditions have been central to its heritage and thus not considered optional in practice. On this basis, the Pharisees and some scribes confront Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating with unwashed hands?” Observing tradition is a key identity marker for them, the function of which has become an end in itself rather than the means for their faith to be more deeply involved with God. So, Jesus counters by getting to the underlying function of their faith practice: “Why do you essentially break God’s commandment (i.e., relational terms) because of your tradition? You hold on to human tradition faithfully while effectively abandoning the command of God. You have a subtle way of invalidating God’s terms for relationship together in order to maintain your tradition! That is to say, you render the words of God silent and thus no longer communicated to you, in order for your tradition to be given priority and transmitted generation to generation. You have become hypocrites role-playing your faith. Isaiah prophesied correctly about your function from outer in to expose your role-playing:
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
They worship of me is composed only by rules
taught as doctrine by human commands’ (Isa 29:13).”
After his feedback to the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus addresses the crowd, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. It is not what goes into the mouth from outside that defiles a person, but the things that come out of a person’s mouth are what defile a person.” Then the disciples report to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answers without flinching, “I expect such a reaction. My feedback’s purpose is to clarify and correct how people function, which would only be received by those who will change. Every plant that my heavenly Father didn’t plant will be uprooted. So, leave them alone! They are simply blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Then his disciples ask him to clarify the parable. He responds with disappointment, “Do you still lack understanding? Don’t you realized that whatever goes into the mouth doesn’t go into a person’s heart but into the stomach and is then eliminated into the toilet. But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart; and these are the sins of reductionism that defile a person, which should not be confused with eating with unwashed hands. So, always distinguish your function with the inner out and not by the common’s outer in prevailing all around you. And don’t let outer-in influences surrounding you shape your identity and function.” No matter how strongly he shares his feelings, his warning about their function has yet to change them from inner out.
Jesus gets up and departs from there to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He enters a house and doesn’t want anyone to know it. But he cannot escape notice as usual, which always puts pressure on him and strains him at times. Just then a Gentile woman comes, falls at his feet and cries out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My little daughter is severely tormented by a demon.” His disciples urge him, “Send her away because she’s crying out after us.” This reflects their bias that makes outer-in distinctions among people, notably between Jews and Gentiles. Ironically, Jesus appears to make the same distinction when he responds to her plea for help and says, “Let the children be fed first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” This didn’t reflect his feelings because his heart does not engage in the rejection underlying such discrimination. Rather he is testing how deep her request to him goes. She responds vulnerably from her heart, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” That’s what Jesus is hoping to hear and wants to see from her: “Woman, your trust in me is great. It is fulfilled for you as you desire from your heart.” When she goes back to her home, she finds her child lying on the bed, and the demon is gone.
Moving on from there, Jesus passes along the Sea of Galilee. As the crowds come to him, he continues to heal those suffering various disabilities. He also is getting more affected by his twelve disciples, becoming frustrated with their lack of understanding due to not being vulnerably involved with him with their hearts, and getting angry with them for the measures they use to define their and his identity as well as determine their and his function.
Since Jesus has compassion for the crowd, he reenacts how he fed the 5,000 earlier to now feed the 4,000. After completing this and dismissing the crowd, he and his disciples get into a boat and go to the region of Magadan. At that point, the Pharisees and Sadducees come and begin to argue with him, demanding of him a sign from heaven to test him. This tries Jesus’ tolerance and his heart sighs deeply in dismay: “Why does this generation demand a sign? I tell you openly and directly, no sign will be given to this generation.” Then he leaves them, gets back into the boat with his disciples and goes to the other side.
The disciples forget to bring bread along with them, except for the one loaf left in the boat. As they’re going, he gives his disciples a strong warning and strict imperative: “Be careful! Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, because their influence permeates those not discerning.” Since the disciples were discussing not having brought any bread with them, they make wrong assumptions about his words. In conscious awareness of this, he shares his anger with them: “You of little faith. Why are you discussing the fact you have no bread to feed us? Do you have hardened hearts? Do you have eyes and not see; do you have ears and not hear? Why don’t you understand yet from what you directly experienced firsthand with the 5,000 and the 4,000?” His feelings are justified and become the basis for how he will address their function from here on. His heart will not remain within the limits and constraints either of their expectations of him, or of their good intentions in how they are. His heart will resonate unmistakably for them to know his feelings.
When Jesus comes to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he shares his curiosity with his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” they answer, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the ancient prophets has come back.” What he really wants to know is, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answers from his mindset, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” His view isn’t a conclusion that he has thought through; rather “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because human reasoning did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven.” Then, he highlights Peter’s coming ministry and the role he will have in the development of the church. This must have stirred in Peter’s mind, yet his excitement will be short-lived as his mindset is about to be exposed at its roots.
From then on Jesus emphasizes to his disciples that it is necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. Hearing that riles Peter up, so he takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him intensely: “Oh no it won’t, Lord! This will never happen to you, the Messiah!” Peter’s mindset of the Messiah is only of a victorious leader who would never be defeated. Peter’s overt action precipitates the angry intolerance from Jesus that will get to the heart and leave nothing unsaid to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan, you renegade! You, you yourself, are a hindrance to me, because you’re not focused on God’s concerns but your human concerns. Make no mistake about your bias.”
At that point, he makes it clear about human bias to his disciples and the crowd: “If anyone wants to follow after my person, let that person deny their self-interests, take up their cross by dying to the old in them, and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life as the priority will lose it, but whoever lets go of that priority because of me will find that fulfillment. For what will it benefit someone if they gain the whole world yet lose what’s primary about life? Or what can anyone give in exchange for the qualitative whole of their life from inner out?”
After six days Jesus takes Peter, James and John and leads them up a high mountain by themselves to be alone to pray. As he is praying, the appearance of his face changes beyond a normal glow and his clothes become dazzling white. In this transfigured state, two men are talking with him—Moses and Elijah. The three disciples are in a deep sleep, and when they become fully awake, they are startled to see his unique glory and the two men standing with him. As the two men are leaving, Peter says to Jesus, without knowing what he is really saying since they are terrified: “Master, it’s good for us to be here. Let’s set up three shelters: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While Peter is still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud envelops them, and a voice comes from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples hear this, they fall face down even more terrified. Jesus then warmly comes to them and tenderly touches them saying, “Get up, don’t be afraid of the intimate connections you just witnessed.” As they look up, they see no one except Jesus alone.
As they are coming down the mountain, he orders them with mixed feelings in his heart, “Don’t tell anyone about this unique vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” They keep this to themselves, confused about what “rising from the dead” means. Then they finally ask him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first.” To clarify the facts of what’s happening, he states clearly, “Elijah does come first and restores everything. But I report the existential reality that Elijah has already come. And they didn’t recognize him, so in their bias they did whatever they pleased against him. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then it became clear to the disciples that he has spoken to them about John the Baptist, his forerunner. But they still didn’t understand about Jesus’ painful death and rising from the dead. This amplifies his feelings and increasingly weighs on his heart.
As his trajectory progresses, one of Jesus’ top priorities is to develop the disciples in his qualitative image and functional likeness. This development does not progress smoothly, because the process is a relational process dependent on the disciples vulnerable reciprocal involvement. Their variable function in relationship together continues to be a major source of frustration for Jesus, which he ongoingly addresses with them.
After they come down from the mountain and join the rest of the disciples, a man from the crowd around them cries out for Jesus, “Teacher, I now bring my son to you because he is deeply affected by a demon spirit. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.” Jesus throws his hands up and shakes his head in dismay, “You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you and have to put up with you?” Then he rebukes the unclean spirit, heals the boy, and give him back to his father. Afterward, Jesus goes into the house, and his disciples ask him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He says straight to their faces, “Because of your little faith. For the truth is, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. But take to heart, that faith is only the relational involvement of vulnerable trust in me in reciprocal relationship together.”
Then they leave that place and make their way through Galilee. Jesus shares his feelings further with the disciples: “Let these words sink in deeper than merely going into your ears. The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him and after that he will rise three days later.” But they don’t understand what he shared; and they keep their relational distance from him because they are afraid to ask him—once again, not be vulnerably involved with him. How they function is consequential to their development and will need to be turned around for their identity and function to be of significance to Jesus.
When Jesus is in a house in Capernaum, he asks his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But in their relational distance they remain silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who among them is the greatest. Knowing their thoughts, however, Jesus addresses them directly in their outer-in concerns about how they define their identity and the underlying issue of the competing process of their comparative distinctions: “If anyone wants to be first, they must redefine their identity from the inner out and thereby function to serve everyone without outer-in distinctions.” He calls a small child and has the person stand among them. Taking the child into his arms, he states firmly; “Here is the inner-out truth and reality of life: Unless you turn around and become like little children who have not formed outer-in distinctions, you will not belong to the kingdom of God. Therefore, whoever humbles themselves from inner out like this child without distinctions, that person is the greatest in God’s family. And whoever embraces this child in my likeness on these inner-out terms, also embraces me and him who sent me for relationship together as family.” (Be clarified that Jesus does not reverse the stratified infrastructure prevailing in the common world, but he transforms its outer-in basis to inner out.)
John interjects a concern to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us”—even though the disciples couldn’t cast out demons earlier. Jesus retorts immediately, “Don’t stop him because whoever is not against us is for us, period. But, on the other hand, whoever causes one of these little ones who trust in me to fall away, well, it would be better for them if a heavy millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. Woe to the world because of such influential function, which inevitably exists in surrounding contexts. But woe to that person by whom such function is enacted. Therefore, if any part of you is shaped by this function to reduce your person, then it is imperative for that part of you to die, so the new will rise to define your identity and determine your function.”
“Now if your brother or sister engages in sin of reductionism, make the choice from your heart to tell them how they are wrong. If they listen to you, you have helped them to turn around. But if they won’t listen to or agree with you, bring one or two others in to help support your concern for how they live. If they still will not turn around, then bring in the church’s support. Then if they still don’t submit to the fellowship of believers, let them merely continue in the identity and function of the surrounding context of their real belonging. If you gather together in support of one another, be assured that I am always involved with you at that time in that supporting way.”
Peter then raises the issue, ‘Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me.? As many as seven times?” He is obviously focused on a quantitative measure, but Jesus responds back qualitatively with the primacy of relationship: “I tell you unequivocally, not as many as seven but seventy times seven.” In other words, Jesus isn’t discussing to what extent contrarian relationship can be tolerated, but he focuses on how often relationships can come together and be reconciled; and those who follow him need to respond to others just as he has responded ongoingly to them by forgiving “70 x 7.”
As the functional shift of his trajectory keeps going deeper, Jesus builds on the foundation of his discipleship manifesto that he made definitive in the Sermon on the Mount. So, when a scribe professes to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus tells him frankly, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place in the surrounding context for even his head to lay and thus belong.” This scribe is surprised, if not shocked, because he never heard this before from any of his previous teachers. Then Jesus says to another potential disciple, “Follow me.” He answers, “OK, Lord, first let me go bury my father.” Jesus also tells him firmly, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you, make following me the priority and spread the news of the kingdom of God.” Another one claims, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to my biological family.” But Jesus makes his discipleship terms clear to him, “No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back distracted is suitable for the kingdom of God.”
What Jesus wants all of his followers to understand and thus discern in themselves are the functional simulations that appear to be following him but are only illusions. Therefore, he always exposes any of this subtlety, which is commonly based on an incomplete profile of his person. The profile of Jesus used in “Follow me” is composed by a lens perceiving “me” either with nothing less and no substitutes or with anything less and any substitutes.
Without equivocation, even without apology, Jesus further distinguishes his disciples in an uncommon discipleship, which is in contrast to and conflict with the common practiced pervasively in the surrounding contexts. This conflict emerges further with his own biological family. The Jewish Festival of Tabernacles is near, and his brothers want to discount him as a fraud. So, they pressure him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples can see your works that you are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If you in fact do these things, show yourself to the world.” Their skepticism exposes their disbelief in their own brother. Jesus doesn’t confront them but simply states the bigger picture: “My time has not yet arrived, but for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you since you belong. But it does hate me because I testify about it—that its works are evil, in conflict with mine. So, go up to the festival yourselves and be among your kind. I’m not going to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.”
After his brothers have gone up to the festival, Jesus has his own plan that he implements secretly. The Jews are looking for him at the festival, because they want to take him into custody. Jesus arrives at the festival secretly, and when the festival is already half over, he goes into the temple and begins to teach. The Jews are taken aback, bewildered, “How is this man so learned, since he hasn’t been trained?”
Jesus speaks to the issue to get to the heart of the matter: “My teaching is not my own doing but is from the one who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, they will know for sure whether the teaching is from God or if I merely speak on my own. The one who speaks on his own seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a person of truth—nothing false about him. Now didn’t Moses give you the law from God. Yet, none of you really keeps the heart of the law from inner out, but just observe it from outer in. Is that not why you are trying to kill me, so I can no longer expose your ways?”
With denial they shout, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” And this divisive context intensifies. Jesus rebuts them to silence all their accusations. Still, they try to seize him, but no one lays a hand on him because his hour has not yet come. Even the temple guards, sent by the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest him, come back empty-handed, taken aback by his words, “No one ever spoke the way this man does!”
Another incident happens that Jesus uses to make emphatic the function of God’s law from inner out contrary to merely observing it from outer in. When he begins to teach again at the temple, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. Motivated by their desire to gain evidence to accuse him, they set up this scheme: “Teacher, in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”
Jesus stoops down and starts writing on the ground with his finger. When they persist in questioning him, he stands up and puts the burden on them to act: “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stoops down again and continues writing on the ground. When they hear this challenge, they leave one by one, starting with the older men. Only Jesus is left, with the woman in the center. As he stands up, he says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answers. Jesus responds tenderly, “Neither do I condemn you because of God’s grace. So, turn around and from now on do not sin anymore.”
Jesus thwarts all their efforts to trap him, not because he is smarter than any of them but simply because they are wrong and he is right. Yet, the issue isn’t about who is right but about the functional significance of the person’s integrity before God, with God and for God.
The verbal battle between them continues, in which Jesus sharply contrasts with them. “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” The Pharisees challenge him, “Here you are appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus states with clarity, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I’m going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards. I judge no one with that bias. When I judge, my assessments are correct, because it is not I alone who judge but I stand with the Father who sent me. Even in your own law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I am the one who testifies about myself, and my other witness is the Father who sent me.”
Then they fire back, “Where is your Father?” Jesus starts to vulnerably reveal his whole person from inner out, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, then you would also know my Father. We are inseparable in who, what and how we are!”
Later, he says to them again, “I’m going away; you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I’m going, you cannot come.” Puzzled, the Jews deliberate, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” Jesus further reveals the contrast between them: “You are from the common context below, I am from the uncommon context above. You belong to this world, I don’t belong to it. Therefore, I told you that you will die in your sins. Indeed, if you do not believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”
All they could say is “Who are you?” Then he vulnerably reveals the heart of his person, “Exactly who and what I have been claiming all along. I have a comprehensive critique of you and your biased views, but since the one who sent me is irrefutable, I will elaborate for the world only what I have heard from him.” They don’t comprehend he is speaking to them about his Father. So, Jesus lays bare his heart: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am nothing less than my claim, and that I enact nothing on my own. But just as the Father has taught me, I only teach these things with no substitutes. My Father who sent me is intimately with me; he has not left me alone—to be on my own—for I always fulfill what pleases him.”
As his heart touches those really listening, many believe in him. Then, with affirmation, Jesus responds to the Jews who believe him, “If you embrace the relational terms of my teaching and don’t reinterpret my word, then you are really my disciples. Thus, you will know the experiential truth I embody, and the relational reality of the Truth will set you free.”
This strikes a dissonant chord in others, who raise discord in reaction, “We are descendants of Abraham, and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus responds with a penetrating critique that gets to the underlying problem. “This is the existential reality, even if you deny it. Everyone who commits sin belongs to it forever. So if I, the Son, sets you free from your enslavement to sin, you will be free indeed. I know, on the one hand, you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are trying to kill me, because with your bias you cannot embrace my word. I communicate what I have seen in my Father’s presence. On the other hand, you do what you have heard from your father.”
“Our father is Abraham,” they reply confidently. Penetrating deeper, Jesus states as a matter of fact, “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. The fact is, you are doing what your actual father does.” They protest, “We are not illegitimate children. The only father we have is God himself.”
“Is that right! If God were your Father, you would love me because I came directly from God to be here. I have not come on my own decision but only because he sent me. This begs the question, why don’t you understand what I say? Why? Because you cannot listen to my word communicated in relational language. This exposes that you belong to your father, Satan, and thus you want to carry out your father’s desires. He originated sin, which fragments life and reduces the truth with subtle deception that composes lies with the language of his own nature—for he is the father of lies. Yet, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am indeed telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Only the one who belongs to God listens to God’s words in relational language. Clearly, then, the reason you do not listen to me is that you don’t in fact belong to God but, at best, can only assume you do without basis.”
These deniers react in full defensive mode, “Aren’t we right in saying that you’re a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Jesus rebuts, “Another lie! I am not possessed by a demon. On the contrary, I honor my Father, but you dishonor me just as your father does. The truth will come out. So, for anyone who adheres to my word, their person will never be terminated as yours will be.” The Jews react further, “Now we know for sure that you are demon-possessed. Abraham died and so did the prophets; yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, they will never taste death. Are you greater than Abraham? He died and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
He replies with further intensity, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. You don’t know him, even if you think you do, but I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you saying you do. I know him intimately and keep his word with my whole person. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
The Jews fire back, “You aren’t fifty years old yet, and you’ve seen Abraham?” Jesus simply reveals the reality of this enduring truth, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they pick up stones to stone him, but he eludes them without their awareness.
As Jesus’ trajectory deepens, the inequality among the constituents brings out the inequity of the infrastructure in the surrounding contexts. When his disciples see a man blind from birth, they ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus clarifies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This came about so that the work of God would be displayed in his life. Be alerted, we must do the relational work of him who sent me while there’s still daylight. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Then, on this Sabbath day, Jesus then heals the man, who surprisingly has to confirm to others that he was blind—moreover that Jesus was the one who healed him. This restored man endures a demeaning process that sustains his social status lacking dignity. Finally, when he affirms Jesus to these skeptics to enlighten them, they react abusively, “You were born entirely in sin. How dare you lecture us!”—and they throw him out like some trash. When Jesus hears that they have thrown the man out, he pursues the man and warmly asks, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” In his excitement, the man responds, “Who is he, Sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” The man hears the resonating words, “You have seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Humbled and touched, “Lord, I believe,” as he worships Jesus.
Then Jesus declares, “Part of my trajectory into this world is for judgment, in order that those who essentially do not see will now see, so that those who think they see will effectively become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who are with him hear him say this without any resounding in their ears, and they query him, “We aren’t blind too, are we?” With reverberating words Jesus tells them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be tied to sin. But now that you claim you can see, you remain a slave of sin.”
As the light, Jesus further distinguishes those truly belonging to God, illuminated by the analogy of sheep. “Anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the gate but climbs in some other way is one who fragments and reduces the herd. Contrary to that, the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him and the sheep listen to his voice, paying attention because he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out together. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. His sheep follow him together as one because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.” Those gathered around him, however, do not understand what he is telling them.
Jesus clarifies his words and thereby illuminates his trajectory contrary to others. “I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me functioned to fragment and reduce those gathered together. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. In my function as the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved and belong together. Others function in contrarian ways that counter belonging together, though they may simulate it and have illusions about its integrity. I have come so that they may have life together and have it in wholeness as one.”
Moreover, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sake of the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away to avoid any consequences to himself. This happens because he is merely an employee with no investment to care for the sheep.”
“Most important for my function, I am the good shepherd distinguished in relational terms by the primacy of relationship together in wholeness. I know my own and my own know me—just as the Father knows me intimately and I know the Father, because we are whole together as One. On this relational basis and for this relational purpose, I give up my life for those belonging to me—my heart is theirs, vulnerably opened for intimate connection as family together. But in this fragmentary world embedded in inequality and shrouded with inequity, there are other sheep I have that are not from this sheep pen. I must gather them together also from these other contexts, and they will listen to my voice. Then the relational outcome will be one flock with one shepherd. My vulnerably enacting my identity and function in wholeness to fulfill this purpose is why the Father loves me. I give my life to no other priority, which results from exercising my volition from my heart.” This function is the agency all humans have, who are created in his likeness.
As expected, the Jews are divided because of his words. Many still claim he has a demon, and “He is crazy, why do you listen to him?” But others insist, “These could not be the words of someone who is demon-possessed. Also, can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” With a biased lens, many false claims are made against Jesus. A biased lens of Jesus’ words even divides those favorable to him, because for one reason or another not all of his words are listened to—a selective process likely to serve one’s particular interests. Any selective process results in God’s relational terms being subject to one’s own terms, which are diversely shaped by surrounding contexts.
Given that Jesus’ days embodied on earth will not be much longer, he develops his disciples to take over his purpose based on relational terms. He appoints 72 disciples and sends them in pairs ahead of him to every town and place where he himself is about to go. He instructs them passionately: “The harvest is abundant but the workers are few. Therefore, pray ongoingly and ask the Lord of the harvest to send out committed workers into his harvest. Now go forth and be consciously aware that I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves. You have to assert your persons in what’s primary, but don’t worry about secondary things, but simply adjust to the surrounding contexts for your needs.
Your priority is to heal the sick who are there and share with them in relational terms ‘The kingdom of God is here for you’. If they reject you, clarify the consequences for them. Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
Later, the 72 disciples return joyfully and report in their excitement, “Lord even the demons submit to us as we invoked your name in our trust of you.” Jesus thankfully settles them down, “Don’t be surprised. I have given you the authority to subdue all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you and get distracted by power relations; rather, celebrate the relational reality that you belong permanently in God’s family.”
Then, in the primacy of relationship together, Jesus gets excited in the Holy Spirit and shares while dancing, “I joyfully and thankfully affirm you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these primary matters essential to my words, hid them from the intelligent and educated to discover in their biased lenses, and then revealed their full significance to persons vulnerably opening their hearts to you like little children trusting in what you say. Oh my! Yes, indeed, Father, because this was pleasing in your sight. And in your good pleasure, all things have been entrusted to me.” Then, further revealing his heart to his disciples, he adds, “No one deeply knows who the Son is except the Father; likewise, no one fully knows who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” In other words, reason alone is never sufficient to gain this depth of knowledge and intimate understanding.
Having said this, he privately affirms his disciples to confirm the unique relationship they enjoy together: “Blessed are the eyes that see the inner-out things you see! Believe me, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but never saw it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” This relational basis and its ongoing relational process will prepare and develop his disciples to extend his trajectory into the world.
In another interaction, Jesus clarifies and corrects the function necessary to live by God’s terms for wholeness. An expert of the law stands up to test him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tests him right back, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” Ironically, this expert answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him pointedly, “You’ve answered with the correct words of the law. Now function by these relational terms and you will live whole.”
But the expert exposes his biased lens focused merely on function from the outer in, and on this shallow basis he wants to prove himself right. So, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then responds with the function necessary to fulfill the relational terms of God’s law by highlighting a loving Samaritan. This person distinguishes the relational involvement and response essential to the basic function of love according to God’s relational terms. Jesus wants it understood that only the vulnerable heart of the person enacts love as defined by God, and that this heart function also makes vulnerable the neighbor receiving this love. Moreover, fulfilling the relational function of the terms for relationship in God’s law is enacted neither in a vacuum nor detached from the surrounding context. Therefore, by making the heart of his person vulnerable to others regardless of their status, by implication this loving Samaritan (1) addresses the inequality that defines him and neighbors in comparative relations, and (2) counters the inequity of the surrounding context.
When the expert of the law acknowledges the love of the Samaritan, Jesus tells him emphatically, “Go and function vulnerably in the same way—with nothing less and no substitutes for the heart of your person.”
While Jesus and his disciples are traveling, he enters a village where a woman named Martha welcomes him into her house. This occasion will be a pivotal point in his trajectory, as the functional shift most significantly penetrates the surrounding sociocultural infrastructure to set apart (i.e., make uncommon) the discipleship of his disciples as never before. The following dynamics are critical to understand, which will require an open mind and vulnerable heart.
Martha has a sister named Mary, who is about to turn the infrastructure and its tradition upside down. As expected, Martha enacts her role to prepare the food to serve Jesus and his disciples. But Mary steps away from her expected role and boldly engages Jesus by sitting at the Lord’s feet along with the other disciples, in order to listen directly to his words of teaching—a place commonly reserved for males as rabbinic tradition required. Her action must have flabbergasted the other disciples, but no one intervened to stop Mary’s direct relational involvement with Jesus. Martha, of course, is engaged in hospitality, which has a significant function but renders her to only indirect involvement with Jesus. On the basis of her secondary (though important) function, seeing Mary’s action she complains to Jesus directly, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all this work by myself? Tell her to get back to where she belongs and help me!”
Jesus responds to Martha warmly and with concern, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but I want you to know clearly that only one thing is necessarily primary. Mary has chosen what is best—regardless if it offends your tradition or counters the surrounding infrastructure—and that outcome will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus wants Martha to learn this vital distinction: Even though she willfully extended hospitality to all of them, which he appreciates, she does not extend her person to him to be directly involved in relationship together—the primacy of relationship that hospitality can never supplant or substitute for. In other words, Martha keeps her person at a relational distance from him, which requires less vulnerability from her. In contrast and thus in conflict with Martha, Mary connects with him directly person to person by extending her person to be vulnerably involved with Jesus, her Lord and Teacher.
From this most significant relational connection, even more unprecedented outcomes will unfold ahead with, by, and for Jesus—outcomes which will declare unequivocally the relational primacy composing his gospel in its outcomes for the church. Jesus will be at the center of these outcomes, both with Mary and with others whose hearts are also vulnerably involved with him in reciprocal relationship together.
© 2023 T. Dave Matsuo