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A Theological & Functional Study of the Whole
Christology Studyprinter-friendly pdf version
The Individual Person and the Whole
"Who Is The Greatest?"
When Jesus saw a widow at her only son’s funeral procession, his
heart felt compassion for her (Lk 7:11-
In this seemingly limited moment, Jesus demonstrated more than his power over illness and death; and by this act, he demonstrated more than the limitations of a messianic role. The witnesses of this miracle were convinced that God had come to fulfill the covenant and messianic promise (vv.16-17). Yet, the relational significance of what Jesus demonstrated with this widow appears to be lost in their covenant and messianic expectations shaped by human terms, rather than the meaning of the covenant in God’s thematic relational action.
In the creation narrative, human ontology was never about one’s self (or the individual) nor designed “to be apart” from the whole (Gen 2:18). The person was never created to function as if in a vacuum, thus the individual has neither the functional freedom for self-determination nor the relational autonomy to determine meaning in life and practice and to constitute wholeness. The ontology of the person is only a function of relationship in likeness of the triune God—in whose image the human person is created and apart from whom there is no determination of self, meaning and wholeness. Since creation, God’s thematic action throughout human history has been to respond to the human relational condition “to be apart.” While widows and orphans were at risk in their situations and circumstances, it was their relational condition apart from God’s whole to which Jesus responded as fulfillment of God’s thematic relational action.
When Jesus’ vulnerable response is shaped by human terms (as with the witnesses above), God’s thematic action is reduced to what God does in situations and circumstances, without relational significance and coherence. Increasingly, then, the human relational condition is redefined (or ignored), thus functionally displacing God’s prominence and redefining the individual person with freedom and autonomy. The implication of this shift is the increasing prominence (functional, if not also theological) given to the individual, which, on the one hand, also comes with greater responsibility while, on the other, reduces the whole of human function to manage this responsibility. Reductionism influences the individual to function in an ontological simulation (virtual reality, if you wish) of self-determination and an epistemological illusion of meaning and wholeness, which underlie the function of individualism. This reduced ontology of the person effectively establishes the individual as the primary determiner of self, meaning and wholeness. If the individual person(s) determines these—for example, meaning in interpretive practice or communication—what does this imply for God’s self-revelation, God’s communicative act in the incarnation and Jesus’ vulnerable relational work of grace (as with the widow)?
This involves issues currently facing biblical and theological
studies, notably raised by postmodernism. This has specific
implications for the study of Christology and the significance of
the individual as reader “in front of” the canonical text of Jesus’
The current chapter involves this tension of the ontology of the
person, and the importance and place of the individual person in the
whole of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice.
The freedom and autonomy of the individual are a Western phenomenon, with roots in ancient Greek philosophy. While the individual person appears to have far less prominence (even gets lost) in Eastern contexts, the individual’s function to determine (discover or uncover) its own meaning and wholeness (however virtual) still operates—even if only as a collective characteristic. This suggests that the ontology of the individual person as main determinant has deeper roots, namely in reductionism, and thus functions even in a context deemphasizing the individual for a collective function.
The significance of a Western individual is generally measured only by what one does and has, albeit in a comparative process with what other individuals do and have; in this process, an individual’s self-determination never happens in a vacuum. The significance of a person in a collective context, however, is a function of relationship with others, not the individual compared to others. Yet, though a collective context may determine the quantitative basis for relationships (e.g., their structure and roles), the individual persons determine the qualitative function of those relationships. And how relationships function is a direct outcome of how the person defines oneself. Thus, for example, the lack of qualitative depth of relationship individuals engage in a collective context makes evident the presence of reductionism and its subtle counter-relational work—relationships for which individuals are ultimately accountable.
In any process of reductionism, despite the presence (Eastern contexts) or absence (Western contexts) of a collective structure, the consequence for the individual person as main determinant is the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. This consequence may not be apparent in a collective context, yet its practice of any whole is a virtual reality, an ontological simulation, to which the individual necessarily contributes. And though the individual person cannot determine all of one’s situations and circumstances, that person is accountable “to be apart” from God’s whole.
This tension of the person’s ontology, even in a collective context, was not ignored by Jesus but vitally addressed for the individual person to be whole.
When a “lawyer” challenged Jesus with the question to inherit eternal life (see Lk 10:25-37, cf. rich ruler asking the same question, Mk 10:17), Jesus refocused him on the Torah. Yet, Jesus was addressing something further than the descriptive content of the law or deeper than the interpretive framework of the collective tradition of Judaism (particularly, Second Temple Judaism). As Jesus refocused the lawyer to the law and asked also “How do you read it?” (v.26), he was not merely asking for the lawyer’s legal opinion but more importantly giving him the opportunity as an individual person to express his reader-response position. This is the ongoing opportunity we all have with the whole of the biblical text, notably Jesus’ narrative life and practice, for which we are accountable as readers.
After Jesus affirmed the lawyer’s answer of a summary account of the law, this individual expressed his reader-response position (albeit in the collective character of Judaism) by asking “who is my neighbor?” (v.29). This suggests what he depended on to define his self in this collective context. By focusing on defining the details of what would be required “to justify himself” (dikaioo, to demonstrate to be righteous) for eternal life, he made evident his reader-response position: displacing the functional (not necessarily theological) prominence of God by reduction of the law to a mere code book of behavior to follow for self-determination and justification. Despite asking Jesus for this information, this lawyer-reader would be the main determiner of its meaning by his interpretive practice (as in “intentional fallacy”), which also involved the communication directly from Jesus in this relational interaction. This made further evident his individual prominence over the priority of relationship, even in this well-defined collective context.
His reader-response position was in direct contrast with another teacher of the law (see Mk 12:28-34). Given their common collective context, comparing their differences helps us understand the importance and place of the individual person as defined by Jesus.
This scribe asked Jesus what the priority was in the commandments. Jesus responded with the exact summary as the first lawyer in the above account (Mk 12:29-31), except Jesus included the Shema (Dt 6:4). Perhaps an oversight by the first lawyer, yet it points to the difference between his quantitative focus on a behavioral code and Jesus’ qualitative focus on relationship. By beginning with the Shema, Jesus clarified two important issues: (1) only the Lord God is prominent (functionally as well as theologically), thus irreducible by human shaping, irreplaceable by human displacement, and nonnegotiable to human terms; and (2) the Shema provided the commandments with both their relational clarity as God’s desires (not a mere code, cf. Dt 7:9) and the relational significance necessary to respond to God’s desires—not as the quantitative measure of what to do but as the qualitative function of how to be involved in relationship together.
As Jesus communicated with this scribe, he received Jesus in this face-to-face relational context and also affirmed him at face value (cf. authorial intention) without determining Jesus’ meaning for him—that is, he listened to Jesus without reinterpretation (vv.32-33). Though all communication involves some interpretation by the listener/reader, he demonstrated that meaning came only from the communicator, Jesus. In other words, he didn’t take on the function of an individual person as main determinant, which prevailed in his context, thus he was able to understand the qualitative relational meaning of what Jesus said. He made evident a different listener/reader-response position: God alone is prominent, which relieved him of that responsibility and freed him from a behavioral code of secondary practice (such as “all burnt offerings and sacrifices”) for self-determination and justification, and thus able to focus on the primary importance of the relational involvement of love, without reductionism of the whole person and the relationships important to God. This scribe learned the meaning of Hosea 6:6, which Jesus earlier made requisite to understand his sanctified life and practice (Mt 9:13).
How he read the law was qualitatively different from the first
lawyer. Jesus affirmed his position because he had answered “wisely”
(nounechos, possessing discernment, v.34), not merely
“correctly” as the lawyer did (orthos, rightly, properly, Lk
10:28). Yet, the scribe’s reader-response was in contrast to “the
wise and learned”
The lawyer’s question about what to do for eternal life must be connected both to Jesus defining eternal life as knowing the Trinity (Jn 17:3), and to the issue between merely knowing something about God and truly knowing God. The latter is a function only of intimate relationship, which involves the relational progression of belonging to God’s family (kingdom) as his very own constituted by Jesus in what he saves to.
As these connections are made, they will distinguish the individual person as created in the image of the whole of God, not as main determinant to displace the prominence of God. This likeness of the Trinity is the function of the whole person only for the purpose of relationship together, as vulnerably disclosed in Jesus’ sanctified life and practice “who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). Conjointly, these connections will distinguish God’s whole, to which the individual person must by nature belong to be whole. Moreover, they will distinguish the relationships necessary to be whole—just as those two summary commandments and the Good Samaritan signify, not as codes to accomplish by the individual but as persons involved and constituted in relationship together as the whole of God.
When the lawyer asked who his neighbor was, he revealed not only his reductionist approach to the law. He also exposed being embedded in the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole. Jesus’ account of the Good Samaritan is focused on this human relational condition and how we partition persons, create stratified structures and relationships, or generally live apart in degrees of functional relational distance. While “neighbor” (plesion) in this context signifies anyone within close proximity, regardless of sociocultural, religious, racial-ethnic, economic or political differences, “my neighbor” is not a category defining what to do. That would be reductionism, which would only reinforce the human relational condition, even with good intentions of Christian service. Jesus defined “my neighbor” as a metaphor for the whole created in the image of God, and “mercy” (eleos, compassion, Lk 10:37, cf. Mt 9:13) is the relational involvement in the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity.
The function of “person as neighbor” conflicts with any prominence assumed by the individual for self-determination and justification (to demonstrate to be righteous). The latter was an ontology of the person reducing the primacy of relationships, by which the lawyer functioned. The reductionist function of this individual person is defined by what can be considered a metaphor of “sacrifice” (from Hos 6:6). In conflict with the metaphor of “my neighbor,” the “sacrifice” metaphor describes the reductionist substitute for the law, and thus the epistemological illusion of knowing God apart from relational involvement and the ontological simulation of God’s desires (in the law) without relational significance. This was what the lawyer was embedded in, likely functionally enslaved to (cf. Jn 8:33ff), thus keeping him relationally apart. Yet, his listener-response to “my neighbor” indicated some openness to perceive the meaning of Hosea 6:6 in the Good Samaritan (v.37). Whether this included understanding its relational significance depended on his further vulnerable listener-response to Jesus’ imperative to him to “Go and do likewise” (homoios, like in nature, v.37)—that is, function in likeness of the whole of God.
The functional ontology of the individual person and the listener/reader-response issue are vital matters to address. They are conjoined in the ongoing function of our life and practice, thus inseparable and inescapable, with direct implications for how we function in relationships and practice church.
As the scribe strongly contrasted with the lawyer, there is a commonality between the lawyer and the rich ruler (Mk 10:17-23). Characteristic of reductionism, both made the epistemological error of reducing the qualitative relational significance of eternal life to quantitative information to define what they would need to do. This reader-response reinterpretation can be made even with good intentions, yet the best of intentions can never compensate for reducing the relational significance of God’s authorial intentions. Seminaries and seminarians make this epistemological error; many Christians make this same mistake in ongoing life and practice.
Moreover, the lawyer and rich ruler made the ontological error of assuming they could experience what is by nature qualitatively relational (namely, eternal life) from a position of mere quantitative involvement (notably constrained or enslaved by what they did and had). The ontological condition of the person directly involves a relational condition, the nature of which is either a relational consequence (i.e., functions as a slave who doesn’t belong to the whole) or a relational outcome (i.e., functions as a son/daughter belonging to the whole of God’s very own family). In other words, the significance of human experience is only a qualitative function of relationship, the terms of which are neither determined nor negotiated by the individual person. The qualitative gap in Christian experience today directly corresponds with this ontological error and the relational consequence of redefining the terms of relationship together.
Both of these individuals were influenced and controlled by reductionism, and thus engaged in self-determination and justification: the rich ruler by what he achieved and accumulated; the lawyer by reduction of the law to a behavioral code to achieve. And Jesus’ response to each was to challenge their reductionism and to provide the way out of their enslavement: for the rich ruler to sell all of his reductionist substitutes in order to follow Jesus for relationship together; for the lawyer to let go of his reduction of the law and make his person vulnerable for relational involvement in the relationships necessary to be God’s whole.
Since Jesus’ sanctified life and practice constituted the relational
context and process necessary for us to be whole as the whole of God
constituted by the Trinity, sanctified life and practice in likeness
must (dei) by nature always confront reductionism and expose
its ontological simulations and epistemological illusions—and thus
not allow anything less or any substitutes from the common function,
notably involving counter-relational work. Jesus continued to
confront and to clarify the issues involved for the individual
person and the role of wholeness.
One of the main points of contention some Pharisees, scribes and lawyers had with Jesus and his disciples was about not washing their hands before eating (Lk 11:37-38,45, Mk 7:1-5). Washing the hands was a key purification practice, which was not found in the OT but established by the tradition of their elders (Mk 7:3,5). The polemics here appears to be about the place and validity of religious tradition, yet it further involves the issue of who determines the functional terms for sanctified life and practice: the words from God or their own traditions, assuming they are incompatible (Mk 7:8-9,13). The deeper implications involve the issue of who determines in actual function the terms for relationship with God, and thus what this means for the ontology of the person and persons’ relationships. Jesus clarifies this for us.
The determination of self, meaning and wholeness has been ongoingly the most consequential human practice ever since the first humans took up the challenge in the primordial garden (Gen 3:2-6). This becomes even more problematic when it is a theological practice functioning in a religious context supposedly in relation to God. Jesus called this practice hypocrisy (hypokrisis, “the leaven of the Pharisees,” Lk 12:1) and those who practiced it hypocrites (hypokrites, Mk 7:6, Mt 23:13ff). Hypokrites denotes a pretentious person who is not truthful about the person presented—besides all the added connotations associated with the term; hypocrisy was also one of the chief sins denounced in Judaism, of which the Pharisees were often guilty. Yet, what better serves our purpose in this discussion is denoted by the metaphorical sense of hypokrisis taken from the world of Greek theatre: the action of a person which is similar to a stage performance as an actor. Deceit is not necessarily the intention of a hypokrites, though that is certainly a common issue. The main issue reflected by hypokrisis, however, involves the ontology of the person and its consequence for relationships. This sense of hypokrisis addresses the individual person’s functional determination and the underlying human ontology, which Jesus confronted and clarified.
Hypokritai (pl) make a presentation of self (even unintentionally) which does not correspond to or represent their whole person (signified by the function of the heart). Jesus exposed the worship practice of Pharisees and scribes to make their hypocrisy evident (Mk 7:6, cf. Jer 12:2); later, in his list of woes, he confronted them on their duplicity (Lk 11:39, Mt 23:25). The person presented was the measured (scripted if you will) expression of the outer, more quantitative and distinctly observable aspects of the person (Mt 23:5-7) purposely for a process of self-determination and justification (Mt 23:27-28). This outside-in approach to the person to define, constitute, and distinguish one’s sanctified life and practice was confronted by Jesus in his woes against them and clarified for us not to engage in similar practice. Why was this approach and practice neither sufficient nor compatible for determining self, meaning and wholeness?
This directly involves the issue of who determines the functional terms of sanctified life and practice, and more importantly who functionally determines the terms for relationship with God. These Pharisees’ and scribes’ listener/reader response to God’s words was to reinterpret his meaning based on “the tradition of the elders” or, as Jesus said, “their teachings [the corpus of rabbinic tradition] are but rules taught by men” (Mk 7:70). The term for “rules” (entalma) denotes specific directives of a quantitative character, such as the code of behavior characteristic of rabbinic tradition. Entalma is distinguished from its synonym entole which stresses the qualitative aspect of a directive, not merely its quantitative content as entalma does. This distinction is important in relation to God’s words because entole accounts for a relational aspect, which points to a communication process determining meaning and authority of a directive; to understand a communicative act necessitates by nature a listener/reader to submit to the communicator/author. On the other hand, entalma merely focuses on the content aspect of a directive apart from a relational process, the relational distance of which tends increasingly to render a directive to listener/reader reinterpretation—eventually, even to make it unnecessary to reference it, or to “nullify the word of God” as Jesus said (7:13). This listener/reader-response process “in front of the text” and its relational consequence were what Jesus clarified.
Their listener/reader-response position was insufficient because it functionally separated from (not theologically rejected) the entole of God and replaced them with their own reinterpretations (Mk 7:8-9,13). This is never adequate for determining meaning for God, even with the best of intentions. Additionally, their reductionist perspective paid attention to secondary matters while ignoring the primary, thus reordering what is important to God (Mt 23:23, Lk 11:39, cf. Mt 23:16-22).
Moreover, their process of determination of self was incompatible because it involved redefining the person by quantitative behaviors and functions without qualitative relational significance, thus reducing the ontology of the person (Lk 11:40, Mt 23:26). Besides Jesus’ woes, this redefined person of diminished ontology was made evident in their formulation of entalma, which functioned in their quantitative practice of worship (its forms and participation); yet their practice had no qualitative involvement of the whole person (signified by the function of the heart) and thus had no relational significance to God (Mk 7:6-8). The full quote from Isaiah Jesus used here begins with “These people came near to me with their mouth” (Is 29:13). The term for “came near” (nagas) essentially denotes coming into proximity to an object. The tension between “came near to me with their mouth” and yet “their hearts are far from me” is not a paradox but clearly makes evident the function of a reductionist human ontology based on the outside in, thus they merely focused on outer quantitative practice. While their practice had the appearance of reality, it essentially was only virtual, not real. That is, they enacted the role of worshippers (or any other practice) as the performance of an actor, even if it neither corresponded to nor represented their whole person—hypokrites.
When Jesus said nothing going into a person makes the person unclean (Mk 7:15,18-19), he was not merely disputing the Pharisees and scribes’ purification practices; nor was he justifying his and his disciples’ practice of not washing their hands. To focus only on the purity issue fails to grasp the deeper issues Jesus addressed and clarified. Jesus prefaced these declarations with the imperative challenge for the listener-response process of relational communication—“Listen to me, everyone, and understand this” (v.14)—which “understands” (syniemi), that is, by putting together his words for their meaning. I suggest that Jesus’ words were focused on the ontology of the person from the inside out, not from the outside in (Mk 7:20-23); and this person is not determined, though often relatively defined, by surrounding contexts, situations and circumstances—symbolized by what goes into a person.
Jesus’ ontology of the person is determined only by the whole person, signified by the importance of the heart (as discussed earlier about leb) and constituted by the integrating function of the heart. Surrounding contexts, situations and circumstances may and do indeed shape persons but they cannot determine the ontology of the whole person. As Jesus said, they don’t “go into [the person’s] heart” (v.19) but only involve a reduced person defined by the quantitative parts of reductionism (as “stomach,” “body” and implied excrement represent). His disciples had difficulty understanding this distinction and grasping the whole person (Mk 7:17), apparently due to their own reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework preventing them from “getting it” (asynetos, as Jesus said, v.18, thus lacking syniemi, cf. Mk 8:17).
Furthermore, in the process to make a person unclean, “make unclean” (koinoo) also denotes to make common, which was discussed in the last chapter about the holy God and Jesus’ sanctified life and practice. What distinguished Jesus’ sanctified life and practice was his function in distinction from the common’s function (prevailing even in the religious community), not separation from the common’s context by purification practices. When purity practice pays attention to the quantitative outer aspects of a person perceived to “make a person clean,” while ignoring the qualitative functions necessary not to “make a person common,” its practice is both insufficient and incompatible (cf. Jesus’ woes above). Putting together Jesus’ words here with his vulnerable sanctified life and practice provided clarity for our understanding (syniemi) of this vital theological and functional issue: the ontology of the person created in the image of the holy whole of God is not common; nor is the created function of persons designed in likeness of the holy Trinity to be of common function.
Jesus’ ontology of the person never reduced the person to one’s parts (notably quantitative outer aspects characteristic of reductionist substitutes) but necessitates the integrity of the whole person; nor does this ontology sacrifice the person to lose one’s importance or to get lost in the whole, as tends to happen in a collective context. In contrast to and in conflict with the common function (constituted by reductionism), Jesus’ ontology of the person distinctly affirms the whole person’s importance in the primacy of relationships necessary to be whole. In consequential irony, the purification practices of these Pharisees and scribes never made their persons clean but did make them common (cf. Mt 23:27-28)—that is, in common function, by rigorously performing their roles in the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of reductionism (cf. the consequence of a lie, ‘iys in Ps 62:9); these are the quantitative substitutes which also involved reinforcing and promoting reductionism’s counter-relational work.
When the individual person assumes in function (not necessarily in theology) the responsibility for self-determination and/or self-justification, then the person becomes primarily attentive to the affects on self, thus self-centered—even as part of a collective context. This has critical consequences both for relationships with others and for the relationships necessary to be whole. This was further evidenced in these Pharisees and scribes.
Conjointly, along with their insufficient determination of meaning and their incompatible self-determination, their process of determining wholeness (and the whole) was also incompatible for three reason: (1) they reduced the primacy of relationships by reordering secondary matters to be more important in function (Mt 23:23, Mk 7:10-12), and they obstructed the relationships necessary to be God’s whole (Mt 23:13); (2) the implication of this was that it functionally reduced the ontology of the whole of God and the relational nature of the Trinity—in whose image the human person is created and in whose likeness human persons together are created to function, which thus also implied their reduction of human ontology; and (3) therefore they “nullify the word of God” (akyroo, to make void, Mk 7:13), that is, they, in listener/reader-response function, effectively voided out God’s communication—including Jesus as the hermeneutical and functional keys (Lk 11:52)—which relationally disclosed the whole of God’s thematic relational action in response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole.
Further incompatible with God’s whole was the repercussion of their purity code on the Judaic collective context. Their purification practices, requisite for self-determination and justification, was essentially an elitist system which very few (if any, cf. Jesus’ comment in Mt 23:3b) were able to practically observe. For example, field workers and fishermen could not readily wash their hands. While such a system might have had good intentions to promote Jewish national identity formation in post-exilic Judaism, any results were only a virtual sense of corporate identity—more accurately, an ontological simulation of the whole of God’s people (cf. Mt 23:38). The consequence for most in this system was an inequitable burden of demands which they could never fulfill (Mt 23:4, Lk 11:46). This created a stratified system which in actual function relationally fragmented God’s whole, setting persons apart from the whole under the simulation and illusion of unity.
The inequity from this systemic influence of Judaism even permeated the early church, until it was disputed by Peter at the Jerusalem council (Ac 15:8-10). An earlier dramatic “visit” by Jesus precipitated Peter’s change from his reductionist perspective and understanding (Ac 10:9-16). Yet, a reformation change in theology does not necessarily mean a functional transformation in practice. Later, Peter had to be confronted by Paul for his own form of duplicity and not functioning in the truth of the gospel but merely outwardly performing in his role as a minister of the gospel, which was hypocrisy in Paul’s words (Gal 2:11-14). Thus, in principle, Peter was found in similar function as the Pharisees and scribes—a lesson for church leaders which must be grasped today.
Though this soteriology and pneumatology radically constituted the
early church and ecclesiology, reductionism remained problematic in
church practice (as it does today), which I will discuss in chapter
eight. And, I suggest, a key variable in this ongoing issue and
condition is the ontology of the person—from the outside in or the
When the lawyer earlier made the volitional decision “to justify himself” (dikaioo, Lk 10:29), this exercised the functional choice “to demonstrate to be righteous.” Yet, merely to be defined as righteous is an issue of interpretation and meaning; to be righteous, on the other hand, cannot be a self-determination or be measured by terms of human definition. This is a critical distinction for understanding the difference in actual function between God’s terms and our terms for relationship together. Failure to make this distinction leaves us susceptible to the influence of reductionism. The subtlety of reductionism is evident both in the shift of prominence to the individual person and in the person’s effort to fulfill the responsibility to demonstrate one’s righteousness. The latter necessarily occurs in order to quantify some result, however virtual.
While Jesus said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6), he clearly taught his disciples that their righteousness must “surpass the Pharisees and scribes” (perisseuo, to go beyond, Mt 5:20)—that is, must go beyond the reductionists. This issue of righteousness was addressed in whole by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount—his major discourse with his disciples and his summary teachings (didache) for all his followers, the primer for discipleship (Mt 5-7)—in order to constitute our life and practice beyond reductionism.
The pivotal section in his major discourse is Jesus’ declarative position on the Torah and the Prophets (Mt 5:17-20). Together with the Writings, they constitute the collective word of God in the OT, to which his coming (the embodiment of the gospel) adhered and cohered. The Sermon on the Mount was framed in this larger context of the OT and, therefore, in the full context of God’s thematic action. Jesus’ purpose was not “to abolish” (katalyo, to dissolve, demolish, destroy) but “to fulfill” (pleroo, to complete) “until everything is accomplished” (ginomai, to be, comes into existence). Yet, what the incarnation adhered to and cohered with was not a mere list of demands of the law, nor a system of ethics and moral obligations. The law is God’s terms for covenant relationship together. What Jesus focused on was not merely the oral and written word of God but those words from God—that is, the communication from God. And God’s communicative action is not merely informative but has distinct authorial intention (as communicator/author) to which the incarnation adhered and cohered: namely, God’s thematic relational action to respond to the human condition “to be apart” from God’s whole.
Katalyo is an intensive action of lyo (to dissolve, demolish, destroy), which I will render simply as “to reduce” to better understand the whole of Jesus’ discourse. At issue here is the determination of righteousness and the reduction of God’s communicated intention, which the embodiment of God’s communicative action in the incarnation clarifies, constitutes and makes whole (pleroo). Jesus never engaged in reducing (katalyo) God’s communicative action, whether in the person he presented, by the quality of his own communicative action and with the level of his relational involvement. To the theological and functional contrary, by vulnerably embodying God’s communicative action of grace, Jesus both extended and fulfilled God’s authorial intentions since creation. The whole of God’s thematic communicative action is purely for relationship in the qualitatively distinct relational context and process of the Trinity, as Jesus vulnerably disclosed. The implication of reducing (lyo) any one of these words from God (5:19) is “to dissolve” (“to nullify” in Mk 7:13) communication from God, and thus to disembody God’s Word to a code of behavior, a tradition, doctrine, propositions, and so on, without the qualitative significance of the whole of God’s relational intentions. For this critical reason, Jesus closed this pivotal section of his discourse with the theological and functional necessity for the righteousness of his followers to go beyond reductionism.
When Jesus definitively said our righteousness needs to go beyond the Pharisees and scribes, it is important for us to think in contrary terms, not comparative terms. That is, we have to think in terms of the qualitative distinction from what is common function—the significance of being holy. Their righteousness was a product of reductionism based on the quantitative indicators of what they did in their behavioral code. While most Christians likely do not formulate or perceive of righteousness as an explicit product of reductionism, nevertheless they have a tendency to associate righteousness with certain outward behavior. The presence or absence of that behavior becomes the dependent variable in the determination to be righteous. Contrary to this is the righteousness of God in which Jesus’ discourse seeks to constitute the righteousness of his followers.
Righteousness (Heb. sedaqah, Gk. dikaiosyne) is the essence of that which is just or of one who is just, righteous (Heb. sadaq, Gk. dikaios). Saddiyq (just, lawful, honest, right) signifies God’s character “in all his ways” or actions (Ps 145:17). Sadaq (to be right in a moral or forensic sense, be just, be true) is essentially a legal term, which defines the laws of God (Ps 19:9). Yet, the laws of God cannot validly be separated from God’s ways or actions—that is, disembodied from the righteous God who authored those laws—and still have the qualitative significance of God’s laws. Separated from its author, the practice of the law becomes centered on what the individual does, not about the qualitative involvement (righteousness) with others intended by God for its practice.
Being dikaios means to conform in actions to one’s constitutionally just character; yet, the actions are not in a vacuum and are only significant in relation to others. The Hebrew derivative sedaqah is a legal term used for relationships to stress that the parties involved should be faithful to the expectations of one another. To be dikaios has no theological meaning without being conjoined to this functional significance. To diminish or ignore this functional involvement for the individual’s (collective or not) practice to be righteous becomes an ontological simulation of reductionism; to ascribe theological meaning to the individual’s practice without having this functional significance becomes an epistemological illusion of reductionism. Therefore, to be righteous always involves these actions which others can expect, and what can be counted on from the righteous to function in relationship.
“God is righteous” essentially means the whole of God is in conformity with what, who and how God is in relationship; and the experiential truth of God’s covenant is the ultimate functional expression of his righteousness in relationship. While righteousness is intrinsic to the ontology of what, who and how God is, righteousness is not a mere static attribute or quality of God but always a dynamic relational function. It is readily apparent that God acts on his covenant according to the relational dynamic of the righteous (or just) God in his ongoing involvement with his people; that is, they can count on God to function in conformity with what, who and how he is (cf. Ps 89:33-37). By the nature of being righteous, this is the only way God acts in relationship—nothing less and no substitutes. And by the nature of being righteous, this ongoing relational involvement is the only way God functions—the transcendent and holy God vulnerably present, accessible and involved for relationship. This provides the functional understanding of righteousness which is definitive for our righteousness. As Jesus’ discourse will make evident, anything less or any substitutes are reductionism.
While the righteous God and his covenant are conjoined, God is not the covenant—that is, disembodied in a covenant framework whom we can shape in our likeness. Yet, the covenant is God—that is, the embodied relational promise authored by the righteous God which we cannot shape on our terms; at the same time, this covenant is only a partial expression of what, who and how God is. Likewise, though the righteous God and his laws are inseparable, relationship with God cannot be reduced to mere relationship with the law, which would disembody the law functionally apart from its author’s purpose. Moreover, the law is not the covenant either; it is only the charter for the covenant defining God’s desires and terms for relationship together. The law communicates God’s desires of how to be involved in the relationships for the covenant. When we observe the law (or forms of it) in order to define us (as righteous) or to measure up (to God’s expectations for righteousness), we functionally fall into legalism and thus make the law the covenant. This is reductionism, which effectively diminishes our ontology and enslaves us to what we do. This approach to the law also fails to understand the relational process central to the law for the relational purpose of the covenant: intimate relationship together with God.
Whenever we inadvertently reduce the whole of God and disembody God’s thematic communicative action, all that remains are codes of behavior, standards of ethics, teachings of what to do, propositions of belief to sustain, examples to emulate, to which to conform for righteousness. These are quantitative substitutes from reductionism in lieu of the qualitative difference of relational involvement with the whole of God, including displacing function in likeness of the Trinity. This qualitative significance is the only process that gets us beyond reductionism to the authentic righteousness which functions in likeness to what, who and how God is in relationship.
Going beyond reductionism necessitates the shift in righteousness from merely displaying character traits (an issue of integrity) and practicing an ethic of right and wrong (an issue of being upright) distinctly deeper to the qualitative involvement of what, who and how to be in relationship—relationship both with God and with others. This is the significance of righteousness which is in qualitative distinction from common function, and thus is contrary to and goes beyond those who reduce righteousness, the law, the covenant, God and his communicative action to disembodied quantitative terms.
Moreover, this righteousness of what, who and how we are in function is never realized by the individual person in isolation but only as a relational function both with God and with others in sociocultural context. Thus this involves our identity as participants in a broader context. The implication is: righteousness is the process that makes functional our identity as Jesus’ followers; and identity formation is integrated with the process to be righteous, the extent and depth of which is constituted by God.
From this pivotal section in his major discourse, we turn to the
corresponding previous section in which Jesus addressed the
interrelated issue of identity (Mt 5:13-16).
Our identity serves to inform us about who and what we are, and thus how to be. While identity is certainly not routinely singular, from this primary identity we can present that person to others. No moment in time, not one situation or association adequately defines an identity; identity formation is an ongoing process of trial and error, change, development and maturation. Just as the early disciples struggled with their identity—vacillating between what they were in the broader collective context and who they were as Jesus’ followers—the formation of our identity is critical for following Jesus in order both to establish qualitative distinction from common function and to distinguish who, what and how we are with others in a broader context.
Despite the identity crises which seem to be a routine part of identity formation, Jesus focused on two major issues making our identity problematic (Mt 5:13-16). These directly interrelate to what has been discussed in this chapter. The two major issues are:
Christian identity, namely as Jesus’ followers, must have both clarity and depth to establish qualitative distinction from common function (notably from reductionism) and to distinguish the qualitative significance of our whole person (what, who and how we are) in relationship with others. These two identity issues of ambiguity and shallowness, therefore, need our honest attention and have to be addressed in our ongoing practice, if our righteousness is going to function beyond reductionism.
In these metaphors of the light and the salt, Jesus was unequivocal about the identity of his followers: that “you are…” (eimi, the verb of existence), and thus all his followers are accountable to be (not merely to do) “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.” Other than as a preservative in the ancient world, it is not clear what specific function the salt metaphor serves—perhaps as peace (cf. Mk 9:50). But as a seasoning (“becomes tasteless,” moraine, v.13, cf. Col 4:6), this metaphor better suggests simply the distinct identity of Jesus’ followers which cannot be reduced and still be “salt,” and, in further distinction, which cannot be uninvolved with others and still qualitatively reflect the vulnerable Jesus (the Truth and Life) and illuminate the relational Way as “light.” This is not an optional identity, and perhaps not an identity of choice, but it is unmistakably the identity which comes with the relationship with Jesus and the function as his followers.
Yet, in function identity formation can either become ambiguous or have clarity, can remain shallow or have depth—the process of which will be discussed in the next section. The identity formation from following a popular Jesus, for example, becomes ambiguous because the Christology lacks the qualitative significance of the whole of God and also lacks the qualitative distinction from common function. Consequently, the Christian subculture this generates becomes shallow, without the depth of the whole person in the image of the whole of God nor the primacy of intimate relationships together in likeness of the Trinity; this is not only a functional issue but affects human ontology.
Authentic identity as Jesus’ followers is a relationship-specific process engaged in the practice of the contrary culture clearly distinguished from prevailing cultures (including popular Christian subcultures), which Jesus made definitive in his sanctified life and practice and outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. Clarity and depth of his followers’ identity is rooted in: what we are in the progression of functional relationship with Jesus, and thus who we become intimately with the Father in his family together, as we cooperatively work with the Spirit in how we ongoingly function.
The clarity of the light and the depth of the salt are the relational outcome of this ongoing intimate relationship with the Trinity. Any identity formed while distant from this relationship (which happens even in church) or in competition with this relationship (which happens even in Christian subcultures) diminishes the basic identity of being the whole of God’s very own (“the light”) as well as deteriorates its qualitative substance (“the salt”). Certainly, then, the authentic presentation of self to others is crucial to the identity of Jesus’ followers. This makes evident the importance of Jesus interrelating identity with righteousness in conjoint function. While identity informs us of who, what and how we are, righteousness is the functional process which authentically practices what, who and how we are. Identity and righteousness are conjoined to present a whole person in congruence (ontologically and functionally) to what, who and how that person is—not only in Christ but in the whole of God, the Trinity. Righteousness is necessary so that his followers can be counted on to be those authentic persons—nothing less and no substitutes.
Christian identity without righteousness is problematic, rendered by Jesus as insignificant and useless (5:13). Yet, righteousness without wholeness of identity is equally problematic, which Jesus made a necessity to go beyond reductionism (6:1). The latter often is an issue unknowingly or inadvertently by how “the light” and “the salt” are interpreted. “You are the salt…the light” tend to be perceived merely as missional statements from Jesus of what to do. While this has certainly challenged many Christians historically to serve in missions, it has promoted practices and an identity which do not go beyond reductionism. By taking Jesus’ words out of the context of the vital whole of his major discourse, they fail to grasp the significance of Jesus’ call to his followers—the extent and depth of which Jesus summarized in this major discourse and increasingly made evident in his sanctified life and practice.
The seriousness of the issues of clarity and depth in our life and practice cannot be overstated. The alternative common in Christian practices of essentially obscuring our identity as “the light” is a critical issue directly related to Jesus’ warning to be acutely aware of functioning with the perceptual-interpretive framework of the reductionists (Lk 12:1, cf. Mt 16:6). This approach (alternative didache, Mt 16:12) involved presenting a performance of a role (viz. hypokrisis), that is, essentially the process of taking on an identity lacking clarity of who, what and how one truly is—which in his discourse Jesus addressed, for example, in the practice of the law and relationships with others (5:21-48; 7:1-5). Yet, as noted earlier of hypokrisis, this practice does not preclude the subtlety of a process which could be engaged with good intentions, even inadvertently. Dual identities (e.g., one for different contexts at church and at work) and composite identities (subordinating “the light”) are commonly accepted Christian practices which demonstrate the mindset of reductionism.
Moreover, any identity rooted only in the practice of propositional truth and the content of the law, without being relationally connected with the Truth (cf. “the vine and the branches”) and without ongoing intimate involvement with his whole person (“remain in me,” Jn 15), also is not an authentic identity of Jesus’ followers. Such disembodied identity lacks depth, despite correct appearances. Any identity of “the salt” without its substantive quality is directly interrelated to another critical issue of persons basically undergoing only limited change in the practice of their faith (viz. metaschematizo, outward change), which was addressed by Jesus (e.g., in 6:1-18) and continues to be a current problem for conversion-sanctification issues. No amount of effort in this outer-in approach to what and who we are will be formative of the qualitative change of substance (i.e., metamorphoo, transformation) of the whole person because that is the nature of metaschematizo and a shallow identity. This distinction of metamorphoo from metaschematizo is vital for identity formation (cf. Rom 12:2). Where reductionism prevails, there is no depth of identity and relationship with God, despite even considerable identification and involvement with his truth, law and gospel, all of which have been disembodied.
This reductionism further involves functionally substituting for the whole person, which has crucial consequences for the ontology of the person. Whenever the perceived ontology of the human person (created in the image of God) is functionally different qualitatively from the whole of God (whose image the person supposedly bears), there is reductionism of the human ontology. This reduced ontology is made evident when the person functions relationally apart (or at some distance) from others (even when serving them), without the primacy of intimate relationships necessary to be whole, thus reflecting a person disembodied from the relational nature of God and from God’s whole as signified in the Trinity. In other words, who, what and how this person is never goes beyond reductionism—remaining within the limits of its ontological simulation and epistemological illusion.
Jesus’ declarative statements about the clarity of the light and the depth of the salt are definitive for our identity. Yet, they are not a challenge about what to do; such a challenge would not help us go beyond reductionism but further embed us in it. His definitive statements of our identity are an ontological call about what and who to be; that is, the call to be redefined, transformed and made whole in the ontology of the person created in the image of the whole of God, thus also as whose we are. Conjointly, his definitive statements are a functional call about how to be, that is, called as whole persons to function together in the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity.
For the wholeness of his followers, Jesus made definitive the
process of identity formation necessary for the clarity and depth of
identity to emerge, develop and mature. The outline of this process
was made clearly definitive in the beginning of his major discourse:
the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12).
When our identity adequately informs us of who, what and how we are, there is opportunity to experience wholeness and the satisfaction to be whole—which Jesus points to in the beatitudes with “blessed” (makarios, fully satisfied). The problem, however, with most identities in general and Christian identities in particular is that these identities only inform us of who and what we should be, and thus how we should act. This merely defines what we need to do in order to be associated with that identity without defining our definitive ontology; this then becomes a process of trying to measure up to that identity so that we can achieve definition for our self. The theological and functional implications of such a process for Christian identity are twofold: First, it counters and thus nullifies God’s relational work of grace, and in its place, it in effect constructs human ontology from self-determination.
As we discuss identity formation, it seems necessary to distinguish “identity construction” from identity formation. Identity construction describes the human process of quantifying an identity for uniformity, while the identity formation involves a qualitative growth and maturation in a cooperative relational process with God for wholeness. It is problematic if any identity constructions substitute for or are imposed on identity formation. Since the ontology of the whole person is a vital necessity for the identity of Jesus’ followers, it may require identity deconstruction of many Christian identities to get to this ontology. While any identity deconstruction would not be on the basis of postmodernist assumptions, it has a similar purpose to discredit ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. Yet, this would not be merely to expose reductionism but to go beyond it for the relational whole of God. This describes Jesus’ discourse with his disciples.
Identity formation involves the necessary functional convergence of identity with righteousness and human ontology in a dynamic process based on God’s grace: To go beyond reductionism, our righteousness necessitates an identity of clarity and depth, which requires the ontology of the whole person; and, in reflexive action, the significance of this process necessitates righteousness to make it functional, which needs wholeness of identity for our righteousness to go beyond reductionism, which must by nature involve the human ontology created in the image and likeness of the whole of God—all of which are constituted by the whole of God’s relational work of grace, functionally signifying the relational basis of whose we are. This process of conjoint function is crucial for our understanding and practice, which Jesus makes evident in the beatitudes to establish his followers in his call to be redefined, transformed and made whole.
The beatitudes taken together establish the authentic identity of his followers. I suggest, rather than each beatitude understood independently, they constitute interdependent functional characteristics of the basic identity for what, who and how his followers are. Joined together in dynamic function, the beatitudes form the outline of the process of identity formation. Not surprisingly, Jesus began the process by focusing immediately on the ontology of the person and giving us no basis to define our self by what we do or have.
Though Jesus was not explicit in the beginning of his discourse about the irreducible importance of the heart, the function of the heart underlies everything he said and all that we do (e.g., Mt 5:28; 6:21). The inner person (signified by the heart) constitutes the qualitative distinction of the person, and we cannot assess what and who a person is based merely on the outer person—notably what we do and have (cf. our earlier discussion of Mt 15:10-20). Yet, since the latter perception is a prevailing perceptual-interpretive framework for human ontology, authentic Christian identity forms essentially by beginning with the process of redefinition of the person from the inside out. When we functionally address redefining our own person from the inside out, however, we encounter a major difficulty. Once we get past any resistance, what is it that we honestly see of our person as we look inside? This can become an issue we may rather dance around.
In the first three beatitudes (Mt 5:3-5) Jesus provides us with the critical steps in the process of identity formation, that is, to functionally establish his followers in his call to be redefined, transformed and made whole.
First Beatitude: When we honestly look inside at our person, Jesus said the natural effect would be realization of the condition signified by “poor in spirit” (v.3). “Poor” (ptochos) denotes abject poverty and utter helplessness; therefore this person’s only recourse is to beg. Just to be poor (penes) is a different condition from ptochos because this person can still, for example, go out to work for food. Penes may have little but ptochos has nothing at all. Ptochos, Jesus immediately identifies, is the true condition of our humanity, which precludes self-determination and justification. This is human ontology after the Fall, yet not the full ontology of the whole person which still includes the viable image of God. Without the latter, ptochos would be a worthless person, and this is not Jesus’ focus on the ontology of the person. Nevertheless, ptochos does prevail in human ontology, which clearly makes evident the need for God’s relational work of grace. This is what we need to accept both about our person and from God—not only theologically but functionally because anything less than ptochos counters God’s grace. By necessity, however, the ptochos person ongoingly appropriates God’s relational work of grace to relationally belong to the whole of God’s family, as Jesus said, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Yet, ptochos only begins the process of forming this identity.
Most of us are resistant to operate with this self-definition, especially if we define ourselves by what we do or have. We may be able to accept this “spiritually” in an isolated identity but for practical everyday function in the real world, to live with this self-definition is problematic. While any alternatives and substitutes masking this truth may make us feel less vulnerable, we will never be able to dance completely around the truth of our condition and this reality of human ontology.
In this first critical step in the formation of our identity, Jesus provided no place or option for self-determination. Who and what we are as his followers is determined only by the function of relationship with him as whose we are; and how we are in relationship together is only on his terms, which constitutes the relationship and thus our identity in God’s grace. By this, Jesus makes definitive that God’s grace demands ptochos of our person (the honesty of heart) for ongoing relationship together.
Second Beatitude: Since the ontology of the person (from inside out) is never static, Jesus extends its dynamic function in this next critical step. When we are indeed ptochos, our honest response to our condition is to “mourn” (pentheo, lament, grieve, deep sadness, v.4). If we accept our condition as ptochos—and not merely perceive it as penes—then mourning would be the natural response of our heart. Yet, too often we insulate ourselves from such experience, though unknowingly we may get depressed. The tension involves issues of self-worth, which revolve around ptochos in terms of how we see and feel about ourselves. We tend not to recognize this matter because our heart is unaware of experiencing pentheo, likely only feeling insecure.
In this second critical step in the process of identity formation, the person is taken further and deeper toward being redefined, transformed and made whole. This necessitates the functional ontology of the whole person, contrary to a reductionist practice which insulates the heart or keeps it at a distance of diminished involvement. The dynamic necessary is to open our heart and expose the pentheo by fully acknowledging, admitting and confessing our ptochos—which may include not only about one’s own condition but also the condition of humanity in general.
The ironic influence of reductionism on human ontology is the simulation and illusion to be strong, self-determined, self-sufficient. In contrast and conflict, persons who pentheo address reality without reducing the person, yet not in self-pity but by vulnerably opening their person to God. In this vulnerable relational process, their whole person is presented to God for comfort, healing, cleansing, forgiveness, and deeper involvement, so they can experience God’s intimate response—as Jesus assured “they will be comforted” (parakaleo, term used for every kind of call to a person which is intended to produce a particular effect). As Jesus further made evident throughout his sanctified life and practice, the whole of God is ongoingly vulnerable to our humanity, and we must (dei) relationally reciprocate in likeness with what and who we are. Functional intimacy in relationship involves hearts open to each other and coming together. Intimacy with God, therefore, necessitates by nature that our heart functions in its true humanity (cf. “in spirit and truth”)—nothing less and no substitutes. The process from the first beatitude to the second engages this qualitative relational involvement. And these two critical steps involve the relational moments we extend our person to God the most openly and thus give him the best opportunity to be with us.
Since identity is rooted in whose we are, its formation is contingent on the ongoing function of this relationship—its further and deeper growth. While pentheo defines only a degree of experience relative to each person—no set quantity of sackcloth and ashes—God does not let us remain in a state of gloom and perhaps fall into depression or despair. God’s thematic action never allows for human ontology to remain in reductionism but only functions to make us whole. As Jesus did with tax collectors, a prostitute and others lacking wholeness, he extended God’s relational work of grace to us in our helplessness, pursued us vulnerably in the poverty of our humanity, redeemed us (notably from the common’s enslavement of reductionism) back to his family (on the terms of the Uncommon), thus transformed our whole person for intimate relationship with the Father, and formally by covenant (through adoption) constituted us as his very own children permanently belonging to the whole of God’s family. As discussed earlier, this relational process defines God’s thematic action only as family love—a process based on the whole of God’s relational work of grace, which continues as the basis for God’s family to experience now even further and deeper in relationship together as the church until eschatological completion of God’s whole. This operationalizes the relational progression constituted by Jesus, the ongoing function of which he summarized in this major discourse.
Third Beatitude: The experiential truth of this relational reality is not usually in function a linear process as it is reflexive (back and forth). God’s thematic action and ongoing vulnerability to our humanity, notably evidenced in the incarnation, demonstrate the faithfulness and righteousness of the whole of God whom we can count on to trust intimately in reciprocal relational process. As we go up and down, in and out in our ptochos and pentheo, the initial relational experiences of God’s family love rightfully conclude with only one understanding of our person. This understanding forms the core characteristic of the redefined self, the identity of the transformed in Christ.
In the interrelated critical steps involved in this process of self-understanding, Jesus defined the core characteristic forming the identity of his followers: “the meek” (praus, v.5). While the sense of meekness should not be separated from ptochos, praus (prautes, noun) denotes to be gentle—that is, not hard or resistant to live as one truly is. Praus involves heart function conjoined with overt behavior to demonstrate what and who one is. Contrary to most perceptions of “meek,” this function is not timid weakness but humble strength and truth of character based on one’s true condition. How this specifically would be demonstrated or expressed can be defined best by the various behaviors of Jesus with others. Whatever its form in a particular situation, the most significant issue is that there is no lie or illusion about one’s person in being meek (including being humble).
Yet, meekness is not so much a characteristic of the Christian person, especially by which to be defined and thus to behave. The latter only simulates humility. Rather it is, most importantly for the whole person, a function of relationship both with God and with others. Being meek is a core function in relationship with God for two reasons: (1) with no illusions about self-determination and justification (ptochos) and with response to one’s pentheo, the only basis and ongoing functional base for the person’s life and practice is the whole of God’s relational work of grace; and (2) on this basis, relationship together is only on God’s terms, thus irreducible and nonnegotiable by human persons. God does not work by any human agenda, notably for self-determination and justification. Being meek is this core function involving the relational process of turning away from the falsehood in self-autonomy and entrusting one’s whole person to the grace of God; this is basic not only for conversion but for ongoing sanctification.
Furthermore, who and what this meek-humble person is and how this person functions also must by nature be involved in relationship with others in two qualitatively distinct ways: (1) with God’s grace the basis for the person, there is no basis for comparison with others, for climbing any human ladder or one-upmanship, and thus no basis for stratified relationships which reduce the whole person, but rather a qualitative loving involvement with others (without employing reductionist distinctions) in the relationships necessary for wholeness; and (2) therefore this relational involvement allows no basis for the function of individualism which gives priority to the individual agenda and reduces the primacy of the intimate relationships necessary to be God’s whole.
Meekness is a direct relational outcome of the first two critical steps (beatitudes) signifying the above functions of relationships. There is no theological or functional basis for any other self-assessment, regardless of how much one does, has or accomplishes. Yet, we encounter difficulty when lies or illusions keep us from facing our ptochos or experiencing our pentheo. Intentionally or unintentionally, we make relational substitutes with God and others, and thus act out some role or lie; or we settle for reductionism and live in some illusion. Such lies or illusions both in effect involve some enslavement. In strong contrast, being meek also signifies a functional admission of one’s enslavement—that is, not being free from some form of self-sufficiency (even in a collective context), self-determination (even with a theology of grace), or self-centeredness (even in acts of service)—and one’s need for redemption.
Jesus said the meek “will inherit the earth.” This is not a result of what they do but only a relational outcome constituted in relationship with Jesus and by his relational work of grace. These beatitudes have roots in the promise from the OT covenant, yet Jesus was not taking us back into that context but extending and fulfilling God’s thematic action. The meek's inheritance is not the earth per se (or land, cf. Ps 37:11), with a sense of redistribution for the poor and dispossessed. This inheritance is not about a place, situations or circumstances. This is about a context of God’s whole and dwelling, thus a relational context in which their inheritance is the whole of God for relationship—just as it was for the OT priests and Levites (Nu 18:20, Dt 10:9). The meek (as the poor in spirit, and so forth) are “blessed” (makarioi), that is, fully satisfied, because God is present and intimately involved in their life. This is about well-being and wholeness experienced as the relational outcome of God’s covenant love and faithfulness, Jesus’ vulnerable grace and truth, that is, with the Trinity who is intimately involved together in their “spirit and truth”—nothing less and no substitutes. This blessed relational condition cannot be reduced merely to happiness about one’s situation and circumstances; everyday life is not reduced to our situations and circumstances. In this redefinition of self, the irreducible importance of our whole person (from inside out) and the nonnegotiable priority of intimate relationship together become the perceptual-interpretive framework for what we pay attention to. And the full relational significance of being makarioi is the ongoing relational outcome of these and the rest of the beatitudes and the process of identity formation.
Reductionism is an ongoing challenge to this process, from which we cannot underestimate our need for redemption. The issue of inheritance makes this evident, as was discussed earlier in this chapter about the lawyer (Lk 10:25), and before about the rich ruler (Mk 10:17), raising the question of inheriting eternal life. Inheritance was not possible in the ancient world from a position of enslavement. Redemption (payment made for one’s release) was necessary to change this relational condition, which was the critical error of relationship made by the rich ruler. Merely being freed, however, was insufficient to establish a relational position necessary for inheritance, which was the critical error of relationship likely made by the lawyer. The redemptive history of the whole of God’s thematic action has had a singular trajectory, which Jesus’ vulnerable redemptive work constitutes and the Spirit brings to completion. This purpose is the trinitarian relational process of family love constituting a new covenant (by fulfilling both the charter of the original covenant and its relational significance): relationship together as the whole of God’s family, in which we permanently belong as God’s very own children through adoption (Jn 1:12-13; 8:31-36, Gal 4:4-5, Eph 1:3-5). This is the relational outcome of the relational progression fulfilling Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-26), and the full soteriology of what he saved us to. Without the process of adoption—however this process is interpreted that constitutes the relational reality of becoming the sons and daughters of God (cf. 2 Cor 6:18)—we would be in a relational position of enslavement, or merely redeemed for no relational purpose and outcome, thus leaving unresolved the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole.
While reductionism may not discount the theology of adoption, it either separates the purpose of redemption from it, thus using the concept of redemption merely to promote the freedom and autonomy of individualism, which becomes functionally enslaving. Or reductionism creates an illusion of being free to mask any enslavement. Meekness (in process with ptochos and pentheo), however, by signifying a vulnerable admission of one’s enslavement and need for redemption, becomes the functional clarity of the relational posture necessary for submission to the God who can redeem us from our enslavement and make us whole. The alternative is a false sense of strength or freedom, or the lack of humility, exhibited by those who don’t acknowledge their enslavement, and thus think they are free (e.g., Jn 8:33). Without meekness there is no relational involvement with God’s relational work of grace; without God’s relational work of grace there is no adoption; without adoption there is no relational position in the whole of God’s family, much less an inheritance.
Yet, adoption is not a mere doctrinal truth in which to secure our faith. Adoption must by its nature be an experiential truth, which is an ongoing function of relationship together with relational responsibilities that the Spirit cooperatively brings to wholeness (cf. Ro 8:15-16). And even functional enslavement practiced by Jesus’ followers counters this experience of intimate relationship together as family. Therefore, the function of adoption is the very heart of the relational significance for our ontology, and thus our identity—who and what we are, and whose we are—which makes evident the relational posture of meekness as the core characteristic. Further implications of adoption will be discussed in later chapters.
Fourth Beatitude: Identity formation is an ongoing process of growth and maturation, which is implied in this beatitude. The relational progression for Jesus’ followers implicit in the beatitudes leads us to the next identity characteristic: “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (v.6). The experience of the first three beatitudes, establishing vulnerable involvement with Jesus who takes us to the Father to become a part of his very own family, provides the relational process and the context of family to understand the fourth beatitude.
As discussed earlier in going beyond reductionism, righteousness is not a mere conformity of actions to a given set of legal and ethical standards but about the relational responsibility which is in keeping with reciprocal relationship between God and his people (viz. his family). Going beyond reductionism necessitates the shift in righteousness from merely exhibiting character traits (integrity) and practicing an ethic of right and wrong (upright) to the distinctly deeper qualitative involvement of what, who and how to be in relationships—both with God and with others. Identity formation of Jesus’ followers necessitates this same shift and becomes inexorably integrated with the process to righteousness for the clarity and depth of their identity. Thus, this fourth identity characteristic is not a pursuit about ourselves, though it certainly further and more deeply constitutes our ontology and identity as his family in an essential process of transformation.
Our definitive and functional understanding of righteousness comes from the righteous God’s action in the context and process of relationship. Righteousness is no static attribute or quality of God but always a dynamic relational function. Righteousness is the immanent relational function of God which all other persons can invariably count on from and with God. By the nature of being righteous, this is the only way God acts in relationship; moreover, by the nature of being righteous, this ongoing relational involvement is the only way God functions. That is, righteousness is intrinsic to the ontology of what, who and how God is.
“Hunger and thirst” represent the primary acts to sustain life and to help it grow, which is a metaphor for this basic pursuit. To pursue righteousness is to pursue how God is, and thus to pursue what and who God is—that is, the ontology of God. In other words, this ongoing pursuit of righteousness is the basic relational process of pursuing God and of becoming like God, that is, in relational function, not in ontology (by some deification). This involves the process of transformation (cf. Eph 4:24) of our whole person (from inside out) to the image of the Son (metamorphoo, cf. Ro 8:29; 12:2), who is the image of the whole of God (cf. 2 Co 4:4); the relational outcome of this process further constitutes our ontology as the imago Dei in likeness of the Trinity, the function of which in relationship together makes us whole. The functional purpose of this process of ongoing transformation is only relational: first, for deeper relationship together with the whole of God as family, and further, for more deeply representing the Father to extend and to build his family with family love (the immediate relational responsibilities of those adopted). This defines the relational significance of Christian identity and makes evident: identity formation must include this process of transformation in order to be whole.
Clearly, as these beatitudes interrelate, to pursue righteousness that goes beyond reductionism involves not seeking character traits or ethical behavior but vulnerably pursuing the very relational essence of God and wanting to participate further and deeper in the whole of God’s life (cf. Mt 6:33). Without this qualitative relational significance of righteousness, our identity will merely exhibit shallowness or ambiguity in who, what and how we are in relationships. For those who “hunger and thirst” for the relational righteousness of God, Jesus asserted “they will be filled (chortazo, to be filled to satisfaction) because their whole persons will experience deeper intimate relationship with the whole of God as family together. This is the growth characteristic of identity formation denoted by the fourth beatitude.
Fifth Beatitude: Jesus’ call to his followers to be redefined, transformed and made whole is increasingly realized by ongoing involvement in the trinitarian relational context of family and experience of the trinitarian relational process of family love. This ongoing involvement and experience reconstitutes how his followers function. The profound outcome of being the relational object of the Trinity’s loving involvement and of experiencing further intimate relationship together cannot remain a private (even within a group) or solely individual matter. If this relational outcome is confined to a private context (personal or collective), it will become ingrown, self-serving, and ambiguous or even shallow. If this outcome is reduced to an individual focus, it will become enslaving, not redeeming and transforming. Thus, as the relational outcome of life together, Jesus necessarily extends the process of identity formation to relationships with others.
With the relational outcome emerging from the previous beatitudes, this next characteristic of identity formation (v.7) is more than a restatement of Levi and Hosea 6:6 (Mt 9:9-13), and of the lawyer and the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). This characteristic is not merely about mission or fulfilling what is rightfully expected of us. This is about the ontology of what persons (his followers) have become (in the relational progression) and about the emerging identity of who they are and whose they are, and thus how they function in relationship—not only with God, not only among themselves but now also with others.
Mercy (eleos, compassion) denotes action out of compassion for others which responds to their distress, suffering or misery. Yet, such acts can be performed merely out of missional service or Christian duty—perhaps with paternalism, intentional or inadvertent—without the relational involvement of a person who essentially has been there. With the mercy experienced from God’s relational work of grace, Jesus’ authentic followers become more than good servants but first and foremost become intimate personal recipients (as adopted children) of compassion. Thus, from this redeemed and transformed ontology, this person functions to extend that compassion in likeness of relational involvement with others—notably with those lacking wholeness (or value) and suffering the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole.
Reductionism would define this beatitude to promote the act and benefits of mercy, not the relational involvement of persons with other persons; consequently, its practice of mercy would signify either paternalism or a quid pro quo in human relations. Jesus, however, leads the process of identity formation deeper to go beyond reductionism. The relational outcome of vulnerably following Jesus in the relational progression is constituting the ontology of the whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole. It naturally follows then: the compassionate (eleemon) is a given characteristic in identity formation, not an option; and those persons are blessed (fully satisfied) because they are functioning with others in qualitative involvement for wholeness and fulfilling God’s relational design and purpose for his creation. In the process these persons ongoingly experience deeper compassion themselves, not suggesting their own future problems but the relational outcome indicated in the next beatitude.
Sixth Beatitude: The deeper compassion the compassionate experience further involves the relational work of God’s grace. These persons, who are being further redeemed and transformed, are engaged in the process of becoming whole by involvement necessarily both from their whole person and in the relationships together constituting the whole. These next two beatitudes outline what is involved in this process to wholeness, and thus the maturation of our identity.
The tendency in a context pervaded by reductionism, even though not enslaved by it, is to pay more attention inadvertently to the behavioral/activity aspects of our life and practice. We readily make assumptions about the qualitative presence and involvement of our person in that behavior or activity. A relational context and process make deeper demands on our person; the trinitarian relational context and process hold us accountable for nothing less and no substitutes than our whole person. Thus, we should never assume the ongoing condition of our heart nor the state of our relationship with the whole of God. Wholeness is contingent on their qualitative function.
A shallow identity lacks depth. A shallow person lacks the presence and involvement of heart. Persons lacking heart in function (even inadvertently) lack wholeness. Intimate involvement with the whole of God (i.e., who is unreduced) necessitates an ongoing process of our hearts open and coming together. Yet, this can only be on God’s terms; as discussed previously about holy, the Uncommon and the common are incompatible for relationship. This further necessitates our ongoing transformation to “the pure in heart” (katharos, clean, clear, v.8) to be compatible. This katharos is not a static condition we can merely assume from God’s redemption and forgiveness. God’s relational acts of grace are always for relationship, thus “pure in heart” is a dynamic function for deeper relationship to be whole together. This involves a heart functioning clear of any relational barriers or distance, functioning clean of Satan’s reductionist lies, substitutes and illusions—signifying the catharsis of the old to be constituted in the whole of the new.
An ambiguous identity lacks clarity. An ambiguous person lacks clarity of one’s ontology. Christians lacking ontological clarity lack the qualitative distinction from the common’s function in the surrounding context, notably from reductionism. This distinction includes from the mindset, cultural practices and other established ways prevailing in our contexts, which we assume are compatible with God but effectively shift relationship with the holy God to our common terms. When the identity and ontology of the Uncommon cannot be clearly distinguished from this common function (even in a Christian subculture), this generates ambiguity in our identity and counteracts wholeness for our ontology—which increasingly becomes life and practice without the whole person and without the primacy of intimate relationships necessary to be whole. The theological implication is that the Uncommon and common can neither coexist in functional harmony nor can their functions be combined in a hybrid. The functional implication is that the tension between them must by nature always be of conflict, the nature of which is ongoing and, contrary to some thinking, irremediable. Therefore, “pure in heart” also signifies catharsis of the common to be constituted in the whole of the Uncommon.
The function of the depth of this person’s heart will have the relational outcome to more deeply “see God.” The significance of “see” (horao) implies more than the mere act of seeing but involves more intensively to experience, partake of, or share in something, be in the presence of something and be affected by it. This depth of significance in “seeing” God in the substance of relationship is the intimate process of hearts functionally vulnerable to each other and further coming together in deeper involvement to be whole—the purpose of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice and formative family prayer (Jn 17:19-26). When our ongoing experience (not necessarily continuous) with God is not horao, we need to examine honestly where our heart is and address any assumptions. If, for example, we don’t dance around our ptochos and pentheo, our heart will respond with greater functional trust and vulnerable intimacy—the relational posture of submission to God’s terms signified by meekness. It is only when we assume or ignore this inside-out aspect of our person that we effectively keep relational distance from God, thus impeding the process to be whole.
The early disciples’ struggles were essentially with heart issues, and thus they had difficulty seeing (horao) God even in Jesus’ vulnerable presence (Jn14:7-9). Without a clean and clear heart there will be shallowness in our identity formation and ambiguity in the functional ontology of our person (both individually and together) in ongoing relationship with the whole of God. The catharsis of the old and common make the sixth beatitude evident as the contingency characteristic in the process to be whole and for the maturation of our identity.
Yet, wholeness is never about only the individual person, nor about just the person with God. The next beatitude extends the process.
Seventh Beatitude: While this beatitude together with the sixth outline the process to wholeness, it is also conjoined with the fifth beatitude for the person made whole to function in the relationships necessary to be whole. As the process engages others in relationship, there is much to discuss about it, which I will limit here and expand on in later chapters.
Peace is generally perceived without its qualitative significance and with a limited understanding of the relational involvement constituting it. As Jesus approached Jerusalem in his triumphant entry, he agonized over its condition: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace” (Lk 19:41-42). “What would bring you peace” is a critical issue focused on what belongs to peace, and thus for our immediate discussion about those who bring this peace.
In the classical Greek sense peace is perceived as the opposite of war. The NT, however, does not take its meaning of peace from this source; its concept of peace is an extension from the OT and of the Hebrew shalom. The opposite of shalom is any disturbance to the well-being of the community. That is, biblical peace is not so much the absence of any conflict but more importantly the presence of a specific condition. Throughout the Bible the primary concept of peace is well-being and wholeness. Peace is a general well-being which has both an individual dimension and a corporate/collective dimension. This wholeness extends to all aspects of human life and by necessity included salvation and the end times but certainly is not limited to the latter. Going beyond the mere absence of negative activity, all of this involves what must be present for peace; this is what belongs to peace.
The gospel is predicated by this peace (cf. Ac 10:36). This is the peace in which Jesus constituted his followers—which is distinguished from conventional peace (Jn 14:27). Thus, it is insufficient to signify the gospel of peace with a truncated soteriology (only what Jesus saved us from) without the relational outcome of what he saved us to. These are the relationships together of the whole of God’s family in which Jesus constituted his followers to be whole as the new creation. Wholeness is intrinsic to this peace, and to be whole is a necessary relational condition for those who bring this peace. Who then are the peacemakers?
Their identity is clearly defined by Jesus as the sons and daughters of God (v.9), that is, not God’s servants but the Father’s very own children (cf. v.44). This tells us not only who and what they are but whose they are and how they are as peacemakers.
The adopted children of God have been made whole in God’s family and partake of communion together with the whole of God. As whole persons receiving the whole of God’s relational work of grace, it is insufficient for God’s children merely to share mercy (compassion) with others. It is also insufficient for them merely to engage in the mission (however dedicated) to reduce violence, stop war or create the absence of conflict. On the basis of the ontology of who they are and whose they are, how they function to clearly reflect the depth of their wholeness—thus the relational responsibility to represent the Father and to continue to extend his family—involves a deeper level of relational involvement. “Peacemakers” (eirenopoios) denotes reconcilers, those who seek the well-being and wholeness of others, just as they experience. This means not only to address conflict but to restore relationships necessary to be whole, just as God’s thematic action and the relational work of the Trinity engage.
In the beatitudes Jesus defined the natural relational flow from repentance to redemption to reconciliation to wholeness. Jesus functioned vulnerably in this relational flow and simply engaged the relational work necessary to be whole. While peace describes interpersonal relationships only in a corollary sense, the condition of wholeness and well-being is the new relational order of the new creation as the whole of God’s family (to be discussed in chapter eight).
Each act of reconciliation and peacemaking must function in the same natural relational flow to become whole. This will further the process to wholeness for others and will deepen the wholeness for those engaged, and thus the maturation of the qualitative clarity and depth of their identity.
Eighth Beatitude: The reality for human life and practice is that reductionism prevails; and not everyone is seeking resolution to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. Consequently, in this last characteristic of their basic identity Jesus made evident to his followers the repercussions of being constituted in his call to be redefined, transformed and made whole: the function of this new ontology in relational involvement with others will encounter strong negative reaction “because of righteousness…because of me” (vv.10,11). Identity formation of his followers remains incomplete until they experience this consequence of their ontology functioning in the world, which may include some Christian subcultures.
Along with the benefits and responsibilities of belonging to his family as one of the Father’s very own, this consequence is another given characteristic in their identity. Yet, these repercussions are not the result of being doctrinaire, condescending or otherwise unloving, though Christians certainly have experienced reactions of this kind. Nor are these reactions against merely servants of God, which our notion of prophets often gets reduced to (v.12). These are the relational reactions from others to God’s children who are functioning in their relational responsibility (“because of righteousness”) as the Father’s very own to extend the whole of God’s family (“theirs is the kingdom”) to others in the relational righteousness of family love vulnerably constituted by Jesus (“because of me”).
This last beatitude is the consequence of the qualitative distinction intrinsic to the ontology of God’s people and explicit in their function in the common context. Just as the prophets and Jesus experienced, this is part of the identity of being in God’s family and intimately involved with the whole and holy God (the Uncommon). This may be a difficult identity characteristic to embrace, which we may tend to limit to unique situations for only a minority of Christians. Yet, we need to avoid reducing the truth that not only is the qualitative distinction of the Uncommon incompatible with the common function but in conflict with it also; anything less reduces the ontology of the Uncommon and those who have become uncommon. And relational reactions from the common function will come in all forms and varying degrees as long as the uncommon extend themselves to the common with a critique of hope.
Thus, to avoid those reactions is to reduce our ontology. To function as a peacemaker, for example, merely by being irenic, consensus building and unity forming is insufficient, and tends to become the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of reductionism. This last characteristic in identity formation is about being whole, both individually and together as family, in the human context suffering the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. Nothing less and no substitutes for this whole define our identity as the whole of God’s family. Anything less and any substitutes for wholeness of our identity lack the clarity and depth for our righteousness to go beyond reductionism. The resulting ambiguity and shallowness will not be fully satisfying (makarios, “blessed”), nor be taken seriously in the world.
As the consequential characteristic of our identity, this must not be taken lightly or be lost in our identity formation.
The above beatitudes are the interdependent characteristics which together formulate our basic identity in who, what and how we are as Jesus’ followers and whose we become in the relational progression—thus making evident the ontology of the person and the whole. These beatitudes, however, are only the outline of the process of identity formation. Functionally, this process immediately addresses the whole person by opening our heart to be redefined. In the process, Jesus (in conjoint function with the Spirit) redeems us from the old (and the common) and transforms us to the new (and the uncommon) to be made whole in relationship together with the Trinity, and thus to function whole in likeness of the Trinity. This process is ongoing and its outline is not just linear but reflexive in our identity’s growth and maturation. As identity issues of ambiguity and shallowness become resolved, our identity as Jesus’ followers takes on a distinct qualitative presence with others in the world. This is the basis for Jesus’ definitive declaration that we are the light and the salt, in which the ontology of we is the definitive understanding of the light and the salt.
The remaining sections of Jesus’ major discourse with his disciples
and his summary teachings (didache) for all his followers (Mt
5:21ff) address the function of this new identity conjoined with
relational righteousness and the ontology of the whole. I will
return to these aspects in the Sermon on the Mount at various points
in the remainder of this study (notably in chapter seven).
The surrounding Mediterranean context for Jesus’ disciples functioned according to designated social status, thus one’s significance depended on social ranking (cf. those without value like tax collectors, widows and orphans discussed earlier). This was just the prevailing norm, by which even Jesus’ significance was dismissed in his hometown (Mk 6:1-6). And this conventional practice was part of the common function and was pervasive then and continues to be today. The early disciples were not redeemed from this practice, as they clearly demonstrated by arguing over who was the greatest (Lk 9:46; 22:24) and by even asking Jesus “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (“heaven” used in Matthew for God, kingdom of God, Mt 18:1). Moreover, the request by James and John (Mk 10:35-37), and their mother (Mt 20:20-21), also involved this issue and caused further tension among the disciples (Mt 20:24, Mk10:41).
While the disciples attempted to position themselves for greater significance in Jesus’ context, they functioned from the context both of their old and the common. Jesus addressed them directly on this issue from his trinitarian relational context by more deeply differentiating the context of the new and the Uncommon (Mt 18:2-4).
When Jesus focused their attention on a little child, this should not be considered with a modern perception which often has children at the center of attention. Jesus was not making such a distinction but rather was illustrating a profound difference. Similar to the beatitudes, Jesus immediately addressed their need to turn around, change (strepho, v.3) from two major issues: (1) how they defined themselves, and based on that, (2) how they practiced relationships. Based on their question and arguments, they demonstrated two practices: (1) they defined themselves by the status of what they did and had, and thus, (2) they made distinctions in relationships based on ranking to create a stratified order promoting distance or separation in relationships. However unintended or inadvertent, this was the implication and relational consequence of such practices. Jesus was not suggesting that their status in his kingdom (family) was in doubt but was clarifying the conflicting nature of their practice.
The little child illustrates this profound difference (cf. earlier discussion on Lk 10:21). The disciples’ practice in effect was the effort of self-determination and justification which involved a false human ontology. They needed to turn around, change from that “and become like little children” (ginomai, begin to be, enter into a state of being, v.3). That is, with the little child, Jesus was redefining their person commonly based on what they did and had and, similar to the first beatitude, was reconstituting the ontology of their person uncommonly based on what they are without reductionism. By doing so, Jesus also needed to shift them from how they ordered relationships; yet, he neither delegated them to the bottom without value (cf. Mk 9:35), nor did he reverse the order by placing the child at the top (cf. Lk 9:48b). By defining who is the greatest as “whoever humbles himself like this child” (tapeinoo, to bring low, v.4), Jesus provided further functional clarity to the relational posture of submission to God’s relational work of grace (similar to the third beatitude). The theological implication is: the ontology of the human person has no valid basis for making distinctions between persons, notably based on what one does or has. The functional implication is: the order and practice of relationships have no basis to be stratified, namely to treat persons differently based on social constructs from reductionism.
Jesus did not reverse the relational order of a stratified system but he redeemed the relational order from the old and common and transformed it to the new and uncommon to make it whole. He did this by constituting the ontology of the whole person in the image of the whole of God and into the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity. Though this eradicates false distinctions, it does not eliminate valid differences. Just as among the trinitarian persons, there are some differences among human persons; these are not ontological differences but differences involving function (including spiritual gifts) or secondary characteristics (e.g., physical or some cultural) which do not reorder the relationships of the whole. These are differences without distinctions in the relationships of the whole, which is how relationships need to function to be whole. Contrary to making distinctions, these differences serve neither to highlight the individual nor to fragment the whole but rather function to constitute the relational integrity of the whole with its created diversity.
In other words, in the whole of God—whether it is in the Trinity, in the kingdom, family or church of God—no person is the greatest, no person is greater than any other person. In God’s whole, such distinctions do not exist. For in the ontology of the whole, the whole is always greater than the persons who together make up the whole. And each of his followers must take their rightful (i.e., righteous) place in the whole in order to be made whole.
To function in the ontology of the person made whole is the
relational righteousness that goes beyond reductionism, and thus
denotes the wholeness of identity which has the clarity to be the
light, and the depth to be the salt. Later, Jesus also addressed the
above issues in relation to leadership among his followers, which I
will discuss in a later chapter.
As the modern person gains access to more information and engages in more electronic communication, the function of the person becomes more shallow to accommodate the quantity and activity. As globalization expands to generate dubious connections in the human community, human identity becomes more ambiguous to accommodate the quantitative operation of diverse sectors (notably economic and political) and their interrelated functions reducing the quality of human relationships. Christians and churches locate themselves in this influential surrounding context. If we are unable to function in a distinguishing ontology, we become embedded in this surrounding context and shaped by it. What then is necessary for the authentic identity of Jesus’ followers today?
The main issue Christians and churches need to confront is our functional ontology of the person, and thus what, who and how we are in everyday life and practice, not only as persons but persons in relationships. A reduced ontology of the person focuses on the outward change and practice of metaschematizo. This outer-in approach distances us from our heart and invariably involves engaging the mere role functions of hypokrisis, however unintended or inadvertent. And the functional consequence for relationships is diminished relational involvement, reordering the primacy of intimate relationships and practicing the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole—thus effectively promoting counter-relational work. This is the nature and functional reality of reductionism. What emerges in this process once again makes evident sin as the functional reduction of the whole of God.
The ontology of the whole person resists reductionism by giving functional importance to the heart and the inner-out change and practice of metamorphoo. This transformation is basic to the righteousness and identity of “the pure in heart,” which churches need ongoingly to nurture for growth and maturation. Moreover, this ontology resists reduction of the primacy of relationships and the intimate involvement necessary to be whole together. This primacy cannot be reordered without altering our functional ontology. Yet, these two qualitative functions are often trade-offs for the efficiency and production of reductionist substitutes in church practice, which net quicker results but lack clarity and depth. Going beyond reductionism is never an issue of pragmatics but only of ontology, which is neither optional nor negotiable for Jesus’ followers. This is the ontology churches need to be accountable for in their life and practice.
Modern Christians and churches (free or not) in the West need to rediscover the qualitative whole, the significance of which is only a function of relationship. Eastern churches and most Christians (modern or not) need to rediscover the whole person, the qualitative integration of which is only by the function of the heart. The whole for the West and the whole person for the East are not cultural options. These cannot be made relative to a surrounding context nor shaped by it to serve its interests. God’s whole and the person in the image of the whole of God are matters of ontology which cannot be reduced by prevailing church practice (cf. Jesus’ critique of churches in Rev 2 & 3, to be discussed in chapter eight). Any such effort by a church (including from the global South, e.g., with the prosperity gospel in Africa) would be in effect to renegotiate God’s relational work of grace, and thus to nullify it. This would leave those Christians and that church without the qualitative distinction from common function necessary to go beyond reductionism for the clarity of the light and the depth of the salt. This raises the question for all of us: Where then is the ongoing function of God’s grace in our life and practice, both as a person and together as church, which clearly defines also the depth of whose we are?
Therefore, all churches need to functionally rediscover the Uncommon who is incompatible for relationship with the common. This specifically requires addressing practices which emerge from or are embedded in the common function of a surrounding context. They need to be redeemed and transformed in order to be made whole. This is the “catharsis of the common” necessary for identity formation of “the pure in heart.” Moreover, some of these practices are well-established ways of doing things and even some church traditions without relational significance to God. These are necessarily included in the “catharsis of the old” for greater intimacy with the whole of God.
The reality facing church life and practice today is, I suggest, a crisis of its functional ontology of the whole person and the whole it professes to be—an identity crisis which will not resolve itself over time. Thus, churches urgently need to engage the cooperative relational work with the Spirit to discover ways and provide opportunities for further qualitative involvement by the whole person, as well as for deeper relational involvement between persons in the relationships necessary to be whole. This does not necessarily require new forms of church practice—for example, the emerging church or house church movement. In one sense, new forms of worship practice have reinforced shallowness and promoted reductionism, for example, by focusing on form and performance; this has shaped “new rules” which have “come near” to God with broader and louder mouths but still leave the heart (and thus the whole person) distant from God (Is 29:13, Mk 7:6-7). To go beyond reductionism, we have to change further than metaschematizo and need to function deeper than hypokrisis.
This further change and deeper function involve the practice of Jesus’ theology—that is, the functional ontology of the person in the image of the whole of God and of persons together in likeness of the Trinity, which Jesus constituted in the trinitarian relational context of family and by the trinitarian relational process of family love. This may need to be distinguished from practical theology or from what is practical. The latter are often merely accommodations to the common function pervading a surrounding context. In other words, “practical” tends to become a euphemism for reductionism. Jesus’ sanctified life and practice made vulnerably evident the incarnation principle of nothing less and no substitutes. This is the ontology of the incarnation of his person and his relational involvement which constituted his followers in the relationship of the whole of God. By this nature then his followers are distinguished in identity simply in the practice of his theology.
Furthermore, if Christians and churches today seriously engage the whole of God’s relational work of grace, then we need to take to heart the ontology of family. Even current emphases on the church as community are insufficient for the ontology of family, particularly in their lack of functional understanding of the relational involvement constituting this communion. The ontology of family in likeness of the Trinity defines distinct qualitative relationships necessary to be whole, which cannot be redefined by our terms or reshaped to meet our interests (individual or collective). Such efforts by us merely reflect our functional enslavements, which reduce the ontology of the church as family to the practice of ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. Therefore, the incarnation principle of nothing less and no substitutes is still necessary, and more urgent, today to make this theological ontology functional in likeness.
This discussion will continue to be developed in later chapters.
 For a discussion of this hermeneutical issue, see Anthony C. Thiselton, “’Behind’ and ‘In Front of’ the Text: Language, Reference and Indeterminacy,” in Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, Karl Moller, eds., After Pentecost: Language and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 97-120.
 If the source for Luke’s account of this interaction was available to Matthew’s Gospel, it is curious why this is not included since it has direct implication to Hosea 6:6.
 Walther Gunther, “Lie, Hypocrisy” in Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 467-470.
 Anthony Thiselton comments on how author intentions tend to be overlooked by individualism in The Promise of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 133-239.
©2008 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.