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A Theological & Functional Study of the Whole
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Jesus and Culture, Ethics, Mission
His Purpose: Shedding Light on Reductionism and the Whole of Creation
His Approach: Three Qualifying Issues
His Practice: Triangulation and Reciprocating Contextualization
Our discussion narrows its focus on vital issues of ongoing life and practice—issues in our surrounding contexts which necessitate the convergence of sanctified life and practice to be whole and salvific life and practice to make whole. These issues engage culture, ethics and mission.
When God’s thematic action in response to the human condition made a strategic shift with the incarnation, the Father sent the Son “into the world.” The relational clarity of God’s communicative action in the Word made flesh was direct (not mediated), vulnerable (openly disclosed) and embodied (accessible to all). This addressed three major issues for all practice: (1) the significance of the person presented to others, (2) the quality of this person’s communication, and (3) the depth level of relationship this person engages.
The truth of the incarnation has significance only in relationship as the experiential truth, which Jesus wholly embodied into the surrounding contexts of the world. Basically, this process is about making functional the theology of God loving the world and sending his Son into the world to love it. Making John 3:16 operational was neither a mere evangelistic program nor a gospel of words; moreover, this was not merely about what Jesus did to signify the propositional truth of salvation. This is about how Jesus lived and functioned in the world because of who he was and whose he was. That is to say, his life and practice operationalized God loving the world by being fully embodied to be vulnerably present and intimately involved with those in it to make it whole.
The relational significance of God’s communicative action in the vulnerably embodied whole of Jesus was only for the intimate involvement in relationship—relationship together in the whole of God. The Father sent the Son into the world to make it whole (sozo, Jn 3:17), that is, in congruence with the relational significance of the whole of Jesus and compatible with the qualitative distinction of the whole and holy God.
The process of being sent is a relational dynamic involving the irreducible qualitative action of God’s communication and the nonnegotiable terms of God’s relational work of grace. This dynamic further signifies wholeness: the whole of the Word disclosing the whole of God and fulfilling the whole of God’s thematic relational action. The implication of this relational dynamic underlying God’s strategic shift is that who and what was sent was nothing less and no substitute than the whole and holy God, that nothing less and no substitute could be sent to fulfill this relational dynamic and thus to fulfill God’s thematic action. This is the significance of the incarnation, the qualitative function of which Jesus vulnerably embodied to be intimately involved with others in culture, ethics and mission.
The process of being sent into the world is the functional outworking of this relational dynamic. For Jesus, only the ongoing function of his whole person embodied his incarnation into the world; and only the ongoing relational involvement of his whole person fulfilled his purpose and function in the world to make whole. Nothing less and no substitutes would be sufficient either to be whole or to make whole. Thus, how Jesus was in the world—whether in word or deed, his teachings or example—cannot be wholly understood apart from the function of who and what he was. To disengage how Jesus was from the full identity of who and what he was embodied in function is to essentially disembody Jesus; this has the relational consequence to reduce God’s communication and renegotiate God’s grace, which creates relational distance with the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement.
“Sent” involves a relationship-specific dynamic, and “sent into the world” involves a relationship-specific function. We need to grasp these about Jesus’ life and practice—notably in culture, ethics and mission—in order to understand our place and function in the world. This chapter essentially involves how Jesus lived and practiced because of who he was and whose he was, and thus how we need to live and practice because of who we are and whose we are. Throughout our discussion, Jesus will make evident the ongoing reality: How a person lives emerges from who and what the person is in full identity, the functional separation of which renders how a person lives to reductionism.
Jesus always embodied this process in the integrity of the whole, which necessitated ongoing function in his sanctified identity: that is, his full identity (the relational posture as the whole of God) conjoined with his minority identity (the functional posture as qualitative distinction from the common’s function “in the world”) for sanctified life and practice. The function of Jesus’ sanctified identity in life and practice established the greater context of his person (who and whose he was), whatever his situations and circumstances. This provided the framework for his sanctified life and practice to ongoingly address the issue of how the person presented in the surrounding contexts of the world is defined and what determines how this person functions. For Jesus to be whole, this functionally necessitated both (1) engaging the human contexts of the world without losing his primary identity of who he is and whose he is, and (2) participating, involving, partaking in situations and relationships without losing his priorities of what he is and thus by nature how he is sent to be.
Jesus embodied this process in the ongoing relational dynamic between his full identity and his minority identity, which is the conjoint function of the qualitative significance of his sanctified identity (discussed in chapter five). As the embodiment of the whole and holy God, Jesus’ identity functioned in congruence with the relational context and process of the Trinity—his ongoing relational posture; this signifies the source of his ontology, out of which his full identity is derived and to which he belongs (Jn 17:14,16). Since his embodied full identity did not function in a vacuum but was sent into the world to function “in the world’s” surrounding context (Jn 17:13)—while “of” the context to which he belongs—this also involved the functional posture of his minority identity. Thus, this points to the dynamic interaction of his full identity with his minority identity that is necessary for the functional significance of his sanctified identity in the world. Clearly then, the person Jesus presented throughout the incarnation was the function only of his whole person because he maintained in sanctified life and practice the integrity of who, what and how he is—without reduction or redefinition. The clarity and depth of his sanctified identity provided the qualitative distinction necessary to function “not of the world” in order to be whole and to make whole “in the world.” These dynamics will become evident in our discussion to follow.
It is vital to grasp the sanctified identity Jesus embodied in sanctified life and practice for the experiential truth of our identity to be in his likeness and our ontology to be in the image of the whole of God (as Jesus asked his Father in his formative family prayer). Without the function of his full identity there is no truth and function of his minority identity in the world; and without the functional truth of his minority identity there is no experiential truth of his full identity for relationship together. This interaction of identities is a function of relationship, not doctrine or ethics; it is a function of a relational process, not a missional paradigm. As the focus of our discussion shifts “into the world,” we need to understand that the functional posture “in the world” of his minority identity is beyond mere ethics and is more than merely mission—even, dare I say, beyond conventional Christian character and conduct.
Receiving and embracing the whole of Jesus, and thus following him in his full identity, will always involve not only being associated with his minority identity but also being constituted in it. Sanctified identity is the relational outcome of this ongoing relational dynamic between his full and minority identities, the function of which is the ontology of the whole and holy God embodied in Jesus and extended in likeness in his followers by the Spirit to love the world. This necessitates congruence of his followers’ whole person with the relational posture of Jesus’ full identity and the functional posture of his minority identity. This congruence is necessary for Jesus’ followers to have the clarity of his minority identity and the depth of his full identity—the clarity and depth necessary to function in the qualitative distinction, and thus significance, of the whole and holy God “in the world” while “not of the world,” just as his Father sent him (Jn 17:18). And Jesus’ involvement “into the world” by its relational nature fully engages culture and practices ethics in vulnerable fulfillment of his (com)mission to love the world to make it whole.
This chapter proceeds with this relational purpose for this
Jesus’ sanctified identity functioned in the relational context and process of God’s communicative action. As communicative action, his words and deeds in sanctified life and practice did not demonstrate a separatist function isolated or relationally detached from the world, nor did his teachings illustrate ideals unattainable for function in the world. While “sanctified” (hagios) denotes, on the one hand, to be separated from ordinary or common usage, on the other, it is devoted to the whole of God and God’s action—namely, the God who sent him into the world. In other words, sanctified identity in life and practice is the qualitative distinction from the common’s function while in the common’s context, and thus it only has functional significance by relational involvement in the common’s context (koinos) “in the world.” This is the nature of Jesus’ minority identity, which is associated with his identity as “the light of the world” (summarized in John’s Gospel, partly as an “I am” statement, Jn 1:4,9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36,46).
The clarity of Jesus’ identity as the light “in the world” functioned vulnerably in the narrative of Lazarus’ death and raising (see Jn 11:1-44). Jesus stated that Lazarus’ sickness would not conclude in death (v.4, not that he would not die, vv.11,14). It is important to distinguish between the relationship with Lazarus (along with his sisters, whom Jesus loved, vv.3,5) and the surrounding context of the relationship. Jesus was vulnerably involved in both the relationship and the surrounding context for the same purpose, yet the functional dynamic involved was different for each. I previously discussed the relationship, and here I focus on the surrounding context.
Jesus defined the situation as having the purpose to highlight the vulnerable presence and involvement of the whole of God signified in the identity of the Son (as “glory” points to, vv.4,40). By its nature as communicative action, this could only be fulfilled by direct involvement of Jesus’ whole person in the surrounding context, not separated from it nor relationally uninvolved in it—in other words, nothing less and no substitute. His disciples raised an incredulous voice to his action to return to that hostile surrounding context trying to kill him (v.8). Jesus responded from his identity as the light (vv.9-10). His action to return was based on what he was as “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12; 9:5), and whose he was who sent him (Jn 12:45-46); therefore, how he functioned cannot be defined and determined by the surrounding context—even if it was receptive, as demonstrated by Jesus’ timing to wait two days before responding to Lazarus, his family and extended community (v.6). How he functioned emerged from his minority identity as the light in interaction with his full identity as the whole of God who sent him (vv.41-42). Thus, as the light he “must by its nature (dei, not from obligation or compulsion) do the work of him who sent me” (Jn 9:4).
Jesus’ sanctified identity, defining who and what he was, determined how he was, and that always involved going deeper into the surrounding context. Identity as the light of the world only has significance when it is relationally involved in those contexts. While putting oneself in harm’s way may seem misguided, or beyond the practice of many (consider Thomas’ remark, v.16), that was not Jesus’ purpose in this situation; later, he deliberately avoided contexts to kill him (Jn 11:53-54), which was an earlier reason he stayed out of Judea to extend his Galilean ministry (Jn 7:1). The issue about engaging the surrounding context was not about the extent of hostility or receptivity, but about relational congruence with the whole of God who sent him into the contexts of the world—just as he told his biological brothers who challenged him to go to Judea (Jn 7:3-6), and as he defined for his disciples in their identity together as the light (Jn 9:4, cf. 12:36).
Jesus made definitive: “When I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5). This defined two vital aspects of the light. First, the light only has functional significance in the contexts of the world (“When I am in the world”); and the identity of the light can only have clarity when it functions in those contexts (“When I…I am the light,” cf. Jn 1:5a). Secondly, the light is not some static attribute of Jesus, nor a quantitative deed, to be observed. Jesus was definitive that “I am” the light (emphatically stated, ego emi, in Jn 8:12). In this “I am” statement, the ontology of the whole of Jesus is signified. In presenting the bigger picture, John’s Gospel identifies the light as the life (zoe) in the Word (Jn 1:4). Thus, the light is the dynamic function of the zoe of Jesus, not some attribute (cf. character) or deed (cf. conduct). Furthermore, the light is the dynamic function of the zoe of Jesus’ whole person, that is, conjointly the whole of God, the zoe of the Trinity. Therefore, the light is the dynamic relational function of the relational ontology of the Trinity, which Jesus embodied as vulnerable communicative function in the trinitarian relational context and process for relationship together.
With the bigger picture, John’s Gospel helps us further understand the function of the light. The zoe in the Word, who functioned as the light, had been in eternal existence and functioned as Creator before his incarnation (Jn 1:1-3). This definitive statement not only established the source of Jesus’ identity in the divine context; it also pointed to the function of Jesus’ identity in the context of the world. John’s Gospel is unveiling God’s thematic action since creation, and how the embodied Word coheres with creation. The whole of the Word as Creator becoming flesh involves two vital functions for us to grasp in the contexts of the world:
Jesus’ intimate function in this relational ontology by family love with various persons (discussed throughout this study) clearly spoke to the relationships necessary to be whole for us to understand, as well as called us to participate in reciprocal relationship together with him to be made whole. This reciprocal relational involvement gives us the experiential truth of the relationships together necessary to be the whole of God’s family constituted by the Trinity; and this further gives us the experiential basis to live whole by extending family love to others in the contexts of the world with the clarity of the function of the light to make whole the human condition (cf. Mt 5:16).
Conjoined with creation to fulfill God’s thematic action, Jesus vulnerably and intimately embodied the function of the light as the hermeneutical key to zoe, both the zoe of the whole of God and the zoe of the whole human person created in his image. In addition, his embodiment of the light was also the functional key to the relationships together necessary for the whole of zoe, both the zoe of the Trinity and the zoe of human persons together created in likeness of the Trinity. This relational process of direct communicative action functioned only in the surrounding contexts of the world—relationally involved deeper and deeper in these contexts, and only relationally involved to be whole and to make whole (Jn 12:46). And as the embodied Word cohered with creation, our grasp of theological anthropology emerges as it coheres with the embodied Light.
Moreover, merely life and practice “in the world” and merely engaging the surrounding contexts are insufficient to function as the light of the world. The clarity of the light is not about having doctrinal purity, goes beyond having the proper character and conduct, and practicing the right ethics, as well as goes deeper than merely articulating the gospel message. The light embodies these in the whole of our zoe, not as characteristic or deed but in relational congruence with the zoe of Jesus’ whole person. Thus, the identity of the light has clarity only as a function of sanctified identity, which is the relational outcome of the ontology of the whole and holy God embodied in Jesus transforming (creating) his followers in his likeness as the light of the world. Sanctified identity is the qualitative distinction from the common’s function necessary to be neither defined nor determined by the common’s contexts of the world (cf. the indictment in Eze 22:26). This is an ongoing tension with the common’s function that comes with involvement in the common’s contexts, from which we need qualitative distinction to be whole and to make whole. As Jesus made evident in his sanctified identity, this necessitates the relational congruence of his followers’ whole person with the relational posture of his full identity and the functional posture of his minority identity. In other words, the qualitative distinction of sanctified identity is relational congruence with the whole of Jesus, who sends us into the same contexts of the world just as (kathos, in congruence with) his Father sent him (Jn 17:18).
This is the purpose Jesus had for his disciples when he exhorted them to go with him to Lazarus deeper into that context (Jn 11:15). And the first aspect of the common’s function all his followers encounter going deeper into the surrounding contexts of the world is culture. How did Jesus engage culture?
Culture is present in every human context, however culture is defined and whatever is the shape of a human context. Culture also has a particular identity, and, depending on your definition of culture, culture promotes an identity for the participants (active or passive) in that context (either belonging to or by association). When culture generates the identity of its participants, this becomes an ongoing issue—particularly as contexts intersect, which is the norm in human life and practice.
I define culture as inseparable from identity and use the following working definition in our discussion:
Culture is the life and practice (in its various expressions) of a collective group (formal or informal, large or small) of persons which relatively both defines who and what they are and determines how they function, thereby being a primary source of their identity. Culture is not about an individual person but a social dynamic of persons who belong and/or identify in a context together.
At its earliest stages of development, culture emerges from the life and practice of those persons gathered together, thus culture was defined and determined by them. As that culture was established, its shape remains consistent or firm, with ongoing minor modifications. In the subsequent process of its life and practice, culture essentially takes on a functional “life” of its own to shape its participants; that is to say, those persons become defined by their culture, and thus how they function is also determined by their culture. To be contrary is to go against the norms of culture, or, in other words, be counter-cultural.
Moreover, since we all participate in some type of collective group, we are all part of a particular culture which defines our person and determines how we function—relatively speaking, of course. To this extent we are never free of culture and always apply our culture to our activities, even in biblical interpretation and in studying Jesus and culture. This influence emerges as the significant issue of Jesus’ engagement with culture, which we will discuss with the need to understand the particular cultural lens we bring to this discussion.
How Jesus engaged a culture in a particular context was always first with his own culture. That is to say, Jesus always looked at culture theologically because that was his identity: who, what and how he was in the context and process of the whole of God. As noted above, engaging another culture from one’s own culture is an assumption by which all persons engage a different culture. Thus, these are presuppositions of our own which we have to understand and account for, even as we seek to further understand and more deeply engage Jesus (along with his culture).
To say that Jesus looked at culture theologically should not be separated from the function of his identity. Foremost, his theological lens was not about doctrine, propositions of static truth or systems of beliefs and values; though his lens was certainly theologically orthodox (not in a gospel-speak, salvation-speak sense), it was always in conjoint function with orthopraxy (i.e., sanctified life and practice) in the trinitarian relational context and process for relationship together. Jesus functionally engaged culture not only in orthodoxy but with orthopraxy, with the latter at times appearing to contradict the former, which was an ongoing source of controversy in many of his interactions—notably in a so-called orthodox religious context since it was perceived often as counter-cultural. Yet, Jesus’ theological engagement of culture was not for the end result of orthodoxy, or even orthopraxy, but only for the outcome of relationship together and being whole; thus, his engagement was always as communicative action of God’s thematic relational response to make whole the human condition (cf. Jn 12:46-47). In other words, he saw culture through the lens of God’s perception and desires, and this defined and determined his response.
As the embodiment of God’s communicative action in the contexts of the world, Jesus did not engage culture “to condemn” (krino, to discriminate between good and evil) the identity it generates “but to make whole” (sozo, Jn 3:17) its life and practice influenced by reductionism. By the nature of its source, reductionism has always functioned against the whole since creation in the primordial garden. The reductionism in culture specifically involved the ontology of the whole person created in the image of the whole of God for the relationships together created in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity, thus which are necessary in conjoint function to be whole.
Along with his identity as the light, Jesus’ full humanity as the Son of man also fully affirms this creation. By the earthly human life of Jesus, human life is sanctified in a qualitative distinct practice which is imperative for all his followers to live and experience to be whole as God’s family (as he prayed, Jn 17:19). Furthermore, their sanctified life and practice is necessary to be able to live whole in the surrounding cultural context for the world to “believe” (trust) and “know” (experience) the whole of God extended to them to be part of, and thus no longer “to be apart” from (as he further prayed, Jn 17:21-23).
Any reduction in life and practice of the whole person and those persons’ relationships together need to be made whole to fulfill who, what and how they are as God’s creation. Thus, the reduction of what defines human persons (e.g., in a comparative process to stratify human worth or value) needs to be redefined for persons to be made whole. Likewise, the reduction of human relationships from qualitative function and significance (e.g., by diminishing intimate relational involvement or promoting barriers to relational belonging) needs to be transformed for the relationships together necessary to be whole.
The whole of Jesus, therefore, functioned to engage culture in the surrounding context to: (1) redefine its influence from reductionism, (2) transform its counter-relational work of reductionism, and (3) make whole the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole.
Jesus’ engagement of culture for his purpose to be and make whole involved a relational process; conjointly, this relational process was specific to the relational context of his identity and ontology in the whole of God. The dynamic involvement of this relational process cannot be categorized by typologies of the relation of Jesus and culture. The classic typology of Niebuhr, for example, is of initial interest, yet this is a static framework insufficient to account for Jesus’ engagement of culture. This includes variations or refinements of his typology. The dynamic relational involvement of Jesus in the surrounding contexts of the world was an ongoing process of engaging culture both to be whole and to make whole.
I suggest a different framework to account for the variable nature of this process and to understand the whole of Jesus’ various actions engaging culture. This involves three issues which Jesus ongoingly addressed to help us define why and how he engaged culture and aspects of it. Basic to his approach, Jesus involved his whole person in the life and practice of a culture to function to be whole and to make whole; thus the integrating theme “to be whole” defined his actions engaging culture, which were contingent on one or more of three qualifying issues involving a culture’s life and practice:
A culture may involve more than one of these qualifying issues, and engaging various aspects of a culture’s life and practice tends to involve an interaction of these qualifying issues. Culture then cannot be responded to in its surrounding context with a predetermined set of behavioral responses—only predisposed with the relational involvement to be whole and to make whole. This is how Jesus engaged culture and why.
In the process of cultural engagement, Jesus in full identity appears to transcend culture (cf. Niebuhr’s categories, “Christ against culture”), yet while relationally involved in the surrounding cultural context (cf. “Christ in paradox” or “Christ of culture”) with his minority identity (cf. “Christ above culture”) to make it whole (cf. “Christ the transformer of culture”). The relational interaction of his full identity with his minority identity (signifying his sanctified identity) constitutes the qualitative distinction necessary to be whole in the surrounding cultural context, without which there is no basis to make whole culture’s life and practice.
The ongoing process of engaging culture both to be whole and to make whole involves this process of relational involvement embodied by Jesus. This was made evident in his various encounters.
Our first glimpse of Jesus engaging culture in the surrounding context during his public ministry was at a wedding in Cana (Jn 2:2-11, discussed previously in chapter one). Revisiting that situation in terms of culture, Jesus made evident the practice of his whole person (who, what and how he is). This demonstrated how he functioned in the surrounding human contexts and in those public social interactions.
In this particular human context, Jesus was involved in three interrelated areas: (1) relationship with Mary, (2) the sociocultural context, and (3) relationship with his Father. The consequence of these areas of involvement helps us understand how Jesus engaged culture: first, “to be whole” in the identity of his own culture, then “to make whole” in response to some aspect of the human condition apart from the whole. He quickly established distinction from his cultural identity defined with Mary by simply addressing her as “woman” (gyne, general term for woman with no other significance). This distinction is specific to the relational context which defined his whole person. Thus, Jesus redefined the nature of his involvement with Mary from the human cultural context to the trinitarian relational context of family.
While Jesus had tension with Mary’s human cultural context of family earlier at age twelve (Lk 2:11-52), he still affirmed its life and practice (v.51) since it was compatible or overlapped with him “to be whole.” As he began his public ministry, however, further qualitative distinction was necessary for the clarity of his identity to be whole in the surrounding context. This distinction fully progressed when Jesus publicly made definitive his family in the trinitarian relational context (Mt 12:46-50)—which no doubt created “culture shock” for both his biological family and the surrounding Jewish context by redefining a basic foundation of their culture based on birth and descent.
Jesus further clarified the function of his whole person with his question to Mary: “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” which is rendered more clearly “what is that to you and to me?” What defined Jesus was always in tension with efforts in the surrounding context to redefine him by reducing his whole person. Mary merely acted in who and what she is defined by in that context for participation in its extended family-community identity. Jesus’ tension with Mary was not about her cultural practice (room for flexibility) but about her attempt to redefine him in her terms. By adding “My time has not yet come,” Jesus wanted Mary to know that what his priorities were, and what and who defined him, were determined by his Father. In other words, “what is that to me” cannot be defined and determined by “what is that to you.” This is somewhat a functional paradigm by which Jesus engaged culture in the surrounding context.
This is a necessary function in order to be whole and not to be reduced in identity and ontology by a culture in the surrounding context. Jesus maintained the whole of who, what and how he is by ongoing relational involvement with his Father, with the whole of God. His ongoing relational involvement with his Father served as the reference point for his involvement in sociocultural contexts (like the wedding culture and the necessity of wine, see previous discussion) and with relationships in those contexts (like with Mary). This can be considered the triangulation process (cf. to navigation): Jesus used his reference point in the Father to define and determine his engagement with culture and his involvement in the surrounding contexts of the world, so that he can be whole in order to make whole. Triangulation served to give clarity to his identity as the light of the world and relational significance to “his glory” (as in Jn 2:11) vulnerably disclosed in the world in response to the human condition for the outcome only of relationship together in God’s whole.
This relational process of triangulated engagement of culture is further evident as Jesus was involved with a pluralized identity of Judaism in Jerusalem. When Jesus addressed the identity of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount (discussed earlier in chapter four), he made it imperative that who, what and how they are needs to function beyond the reductionists and their practice of reductionism (Mt 5:20). Those particular reductionists were various teachers of the law (scribes) and Pharisees, not all of them nor the sum of Judaism. Thus, as the above three qualifying issues involving Judaism’s complex life and practice emerged and interacted, Jesus accordingly engaged their “pluralistic” culture in Jerusalem. Yet, tension and conflict with reductionism was notable, which will always happen in the presence and function of the whole. And Jesus’ function in sanctified identity demonstrated this life and practice as he engaged those reductionists in the culture of their surrounding context.
The Judaism Jesus would engage lacked a united identity. Some focused mainly on a religious identity, others more so on an ethnic identity, neither being mutually exclusive and both interrelated with social and economic factors. While Israel’s national identity was underlying (even a source of national pride), this tended to fragment or pluralize identity in Judaism (e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots). Thus, life and practices in the cultural context of Judaism lacked wholeness—namely specific to its historic roots in the whole of the covenant. Rather than a monolithic Judaism, its variable condition was the shape of the context Jesus engaged with the whole of his person, in which he vulnerably involved the whole of God to make it whole.
Jewish culture obviously was not foreign to Jesus, yet his engagement of Judaism’s life and practices was a unique intersection as if it were. Thus, the three qualifying issues are the suggested basis for Jesus’ various actions as he engaged Judaism in Jerusalem. John’s Gospel provides most of the narratives of these encounters in Jesus’ later Judean ministry, which seems to suggest their importance in the big picture of the whole of God’s thematic action both in covenant fulfillment to Israel and in relational response to the human condition to make them whole.
Jesus was in congruence with covenant life and practice in Judaism which notably observed the major pilgrimages to the Jerusalem temple. That is, congruent with covenant relationship and its compatible relational function to come before the Lord—not as obligatory religious code but in response to covenant relationship together, namely in the covenant of love. This was its culture’s life and practice “to be whole,” which Jesus both affirmed and participated in, as we find him going to Jerusalem to observe Passover (and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, revisiting our earlier discussion of Jn 2:12-25). The practice he saw at the temple was not an isolated incident, yet needs to be seen in its full context.
The current system of sacrifice had become an economic enterprise reflecting the prevailing priestly leadership, though not the sum of Judaism—and should not be used to stereotype Judaism and discriminate against it. On the one hand, Jesus’ involvement in the temple signified the compatible nature of Judaism’s covenant practice. What emerged at the temple, however, was incompatible practice with religious, social and economic repercussions: access to God was restricted, a social system of stratification created inequitable participation, those with less economic resources were marginalized, and even denied access. This was incompatible with the whole, thus in conflict with Jesus, and had to be responded to with no room for flexibility or negotiation; it was a condition not only apart from God’s whole but countering “to be whole,” which had to be redeemed.
Thus, on the other hand, Jesus’ action in the temple constituted his involvement necessary to redeem it (Jn 2:14-17) to make the house of God’s dwelling whole for covenant relationship together for all persons without false distinctions (par. Mk 11:17). At the same time, he remained in ongoing tension with certain segments of Judaism (the reductionists) who challenged the source of his identity, thus the validity of his action (Jn 2:18). Their demand, I suggest, had some merit given the radical extent of Jesus’ action; yet, the main issue focused only on what was perceived to be counter-cultural—even that apparent contradiction with orthodoxy noted earlier. Moreover, his further engagement in this context, and relational involvement to make whole, was also in tension with those receptive to him because of their reductionism; thus, Jesus did not allow his person to be defined and determined by them (Jn 2:23-25).
This temple encounter demonstrated Jesus’ engagement of the cultural context of Judaism with various actions based on one or more particular qualifying issues, and how these issues interact to preclude a predetermined set of behavioral responses—only to constitute predisposed relational involvement to be whole and to make whole. This provides us with a working understanding of Jesus’ relation to culture, and further helps us grasp the significance of his subsequent engagement with Judaism.
In the next encounter sometime later, Jesus returned to Jerusalem for another feast of the Jews (unspecified, possibly Feast of Tabernacles, Jn 5:1-47). Once again, his involvement reflected the compatible covenant practice of Judaism. Yet, they needed to understand further and grasp more deeply that covenant practice is not an end in itself but only for covenant relationship together to be whole. As an assumption in any engagement of a culture, Jesus engaged their culture with his own culture, that is, with his sanctified identity (the conjoint function of his full and minority identity). Consequently, his practice to make whole by healing (hygies, vv.6-9) appeared to contradict orthodox life and practice in Judaism, and this became a major controversy among certain Jews since he practiced wholeness on the Sabbath (vv.10-16).
For the reductionists, it was clearly simple: Jesus broke the law basic to the cultural life and practice of Judaism. In a sense of the letter of the law, they had a valid point to raise but insufficient basis for their position. God’s law was the terms for covenant relationship together to be whole and should not be reduced to a code for national identity, self-determination or justification. Yet, in terms of Jesus’ engagement of their cultural life and practice, unlike the temple cleansing earlier, there was partial overlap present “to be whole” allowing room for flexibility to at least discuss the significance of the Sabbath to be whole (see his polemic about the same issue, Jn 7:23). For the current situation, Jesus vulnerably responded to their attacks by making definitive his own culture and sanctified identity: to make whole is his Father’s thematic action and his also (Jn 5:17); he disclosed the source of his identity and ontology (5:19-23) and the significance of his salvific work (5:24-30); and he clearly delineated the alternatives for their life and practice to the choice between the whole of God or reductionism (5:31-47, note again v.39 discussed in the last chapter). Any variation of the whole, even well-intentioned or inadvertently, is a form of reductionism. With that being said, he gave them the responsibility to decide.
After ministry in Galilee to purposely create space from the reductionists in Judea, Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the specific Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (associated with the period in the wilderness living in tents, Jn 7:1-38). His return, however, was not determined by his biological brothers’ misguided challenge; his involvement in the surrounding context was always defined and determined by the triangulation process with his Father (7:2-9). Partial overlap continued to allow room for flexibility to extend his dialogue with Judaism, even as the tension grows in this cultural context. Yet, his purpose and function to make whole appears more directed and urgent. As his Father determined for him, his involvement in this compatible covenant practice did not emerge until mid-week of the week-long Feast (7:10,14). While this has the appearance of caution, triangulation suggests guidance only by his Father’s purpose (“who sent me,” 7:16,28-29) to make whole. This involved God’s communicative action, which also necessitated intensifying his engagement with this context of partially overlapping Judaic life and practices—namely with the aspects of life and practice needing to be made whole.
This engagement of Judaism’s “pluralized” culture (i.e. among themselves) involved God’s communicative action in Jesus’ teaching. Yet, Jesus taught not for the issue of orthodoxy but for the relationship to be whole (7:15-19). He clarified the Torah as only God’s terms for covenant relationship together to be God’s whole (7:21-23) and made definitive his basis to disclose this relationship together necessary to be whole (7:27-29). And this dialogue in Jesus’ engagement of Judaism further precipitated the growing tension between reductionism and God’s whole: “How…such learning without having studied” (v.15); “you are demon-possessed” (v.20); “we know where this man is from, when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from” (v.27)—all of which are juxtaposed to Jesus’ imperative “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment” (v.24, cf. Jn 8:15).
As this dialogue continued and the tension escalated, Jesus impressed on them the urgency of their choice between reductionism and the whole of God (7:30-38). On the last day of the Feast, Jesus deepened his involvement to vulnerably make his person accessible directly to them for the intimate relationship to be whole (7:37-38)—pointing to the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise for relationship together and the living water associated with this Feast to end the wandering in the wilderness of reductionism (Zech 14:8,16-21). In God’s communicative action, the whole of God was vulnerably present and intimately involved.
Jesus engaged culture in his identity and function to be whole, and thus in his purpose to make whole. By the nature of his function and purpose, notably as the light, it was inevitable that the heightened tension with reductionism would result in conflict with the dogmatic reductionists. This was the fluid condition of Jesus’ engagement with Judaism, which nevertheless neither defined nor determined who, what and how he was in this cultural context. His further engagement with Judaism even intensified his identity and function as the light of the world.
When Jesus engaged them again at another time, there was still room for dialogue in this fluid condition of Judaism’s partial overlap toward the whole (Jn 8:12-59). In his involvement Jesus openly shared in dialogue: his identity and function as the light (8:12), thus engaging this context in his sanctified identity—which certain Pharisees challenged him about his life and practice (8:13); this then necessitated identifying the source of his life and practice (8:14-18)—thus they challenged the source of his cultural identity and ontology (8:19a,25a); to which his identity and ontology were vulnerably disclosed (8:19b,23,25b-26) and the purpose of his life and practice (in word and deed) made clearly evident (8:27-29). This room for flexibility by Jesus to dialogue nurtured some in that context for the relational outcome to be whole (8:30). To them, and any receptive reductionists, he made definitive the need to be redeemed to be made whole (8:31-32). This further precipitated the relational consequence of the clear distinction and dynamic between the two alternatives: the whole intrinsic to God or the reductionism inherent of Satan, and thus their incompatibility and conflict (8:33-59); and any variation from the whole always signified a form of reductionism.
Even under difficult conditions, the light continued to engage the cultural context of Judaism to be whole and to make whole (see Jn 9:1-7,35-39; 10:22-39) for covenant relationship together in the whole of God’s family (fulfilling the covenant of love, Dt 7:9)—engagement even to the dismay and misperception of his disciples (Jn 11:7-16). This relational outcome, or even relational consequence, is the effect on reductionism in a culture’s life and practice which the identity and function as the light of the world has. Whatever the qualifying issues may be about a culture, this is ongoingly the light’s identity to be whole and its function to make whole; and the identity of the light has clarity only as a function of sanctified identity triangulating with his Father to determine his involvement—nothing less and no substitutes, just as his Father sent him into the world.
This is the bigger picture into which John’s Gospel contextualizes the narratives of Jesus’ relational involvement with the life and practice of culture as the embodied whole of the Word of God’s communicative action. As the embodied Word, Jesus engaged culture not merely by contextualizing his involvement in a culture’s life and practice, but more importantly he contextualized a culture in his relational context of the Trinity and in his context’s relational process of intimate relationship together in family love—the relational significance of his culture. This is what I call the process of reciprocating contextualization, which needs to inform the current missiological practice of contextualization.
It is vital to understand the dynamic of reciprocating contextualization, and to grasp this as a relational process in necessary conjoint function with triangulation. This integrated relational process is necessary for the qualitative distinction in the surrounding common’s context in order not to be defined or determined by the common’s function. In addition, this relational process converges with the three qualifying issues for the functional involvement necessary both to be whole and to make whole in a culture’s life and practice.
Therefore, Jesus’ engagement of culture in the surrounding context was always in congruence with, and thus the definitive extension of, the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition to make whole his creation. This is the irreducible and nonnegotiable function of the whole of God’s relational work of grace only for new covenant relationship together in love.
Sociology correctly helps each of us understand that we are all part of a larger context and a life and practice greater than our individual self. This rightly points to the relational design of humanity and the need for certain character qualities and conduct to optimize function of human persons together. Contextualization, however, cannot stop in sociology, as tends to happen in various biblical studies (e.g., new Paul perspectives) and missions. While this provides useful descriptive information of collective behavior, this is insufficient to understand the significance of humanity’s relational design, and thus inadequate to explain what is necessary for relationships together to be optimal. We need a theological anthropology to take us deeper. Theology in general, and Christology in particular, makes definitive the specific relational design, purpose and function of the human person in relationships together. This relational understanding was vulnerably disclosed by the whole of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice, which was the embodied function of his sanctified identity. When we become relationally connected and involved with the whole of Jesus, he involves us conjointly in an even greater context than the human social context. This is his relational context and process of the whole of God.
The dynamic of reciprocating contextualization is critical for our understanding of life and practice in the surrounding contexts, whether for Jesus’ life and practice or ours. With reciprocating contextualization Jesus connects us to an even greater context and an even deeper process of life and practice beyond the limits of sociology, that is, to the theological anthropology which coheres with the embodied light. As the light, Jesus functioned to embody the relational design and purpose of the human person created in the image of (and his relational context in) the whole of God, and he embodied the function of the relational ontology of human persons together created in likeness of (and his relational process with) the Trinity. This involves going further than moral ideals, values and virtues, and deeper than ethical character and conduct, to engage human persons together not only for optimal function but for the ongoing relationships in everyday life and practice necessary together to be whole, God’s whole.
Jesus’ involvement in the surrounding context cannot be separated from his identity as the light, which is the zoe of the whole of Jesus, the Word (Jn 1:4). His involvement cannot be reduced to quantitative aspects of bios, and thus merely to certain character qualities and conduct. By the nature of zoe, his involvement was constituted by the function of his sanctified identity in the relational process of triangulation with his Father. This ongoing life and practice in qualitative distinction was neither a static framework for engagement nor a program of ethical involvement. This was a process of the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of the zoe of the embodied whole of the Word as communicative action of the whole of God. Thus, involvement in his relational context necessitates more than character, and function in his relational process necessitates more than conduct—that is, as character and conduct are commonly perceived in ethical studies.
Ethics in general involves a moral philosophy of how persons should live in a certain context and/or in the presence of others, thus establishing a system or code of moral values, standards and principles for character and conduct. This tends not to be directly associated with identity, yet in function ethical practice (or its absence) does indeed relatively define who, what and how persons are. Christian (biblical) ethics should signify Christian identity and, moreover, needs to be constituted by the identity which is both relationally compatible and congruent with the whole of Jesus.
Jesus’ sanctified life and practice in his kingdom and the surrounding context, and in relation to persons in those contexts, went beyond a system of ethics and a predetermined code of conduct. This is not to say that situations determined his ethical practice (as in situation ethics, situationalism), nor to only emphasize principles (as in principalism). Ethics, in specific practice, require a forensic framework which is applicable for all situations and circumstances, or else ethics become merely situational. The three qualifying issues involved in his engagement of a culture continue to inform us of his ethical practice. His sanctified life and practice, in both his kingdom-family and the surrounding context, was a predisposed relational involvement of his whole person guided by triangulation with the Trinity to fulfill his purpose and function in the relationships to be whole and necessary to make whole. This is the integrating theme of Christian ethics, to which practice coheres. This relational context and process are only on God’s terms, which defined and determined Jesus’ identity and function—thus foremost defining and determining his ethical practice.
Jesus was sent into the world by his Father in congruence with God’s terms for the relational context and process to be whole and to make whole. This purpose of living and making whole in the new covenant relationship together as God’s family is the end (telos in Greek) of this relational process—the teleological focus guiding all life and practice in his kingdom-family and the surrounding context. Yet, this telos does not justify the use of any means to this end or disregard the nature of all means used, even if compatible with existing ethical practice. Any means from reductionism is incompatible to be whole or to make whole. This telos by its nature necessitates congruence of its means, thus the telos to be God’s whole also constitutes what means are compatible for this end.
The focus of means to balance a teleological focus in ethical studies is defined as the obligatory (deon in Greek) means necessary to an end, or refraining from the wrong means—known as a deontological focus. Yet, the issue for ethics in terms of character and conduct is when ethical practice becomes the primary focus. That is, as ethical means become separated or blurred from their particular end, ethical practice is problematic in clearly understanding its significance to that end, tending to become an end in itself, at least in function if not also in purpose. This also reduces the significance of such character and conduct, whose attribute and right behavior tend to become the end revolved around subtly for oneself.
Deontological ethics (based on the obligation and duty to do what is right) is synonymous with the biblical term opheilo: morally obligated to (e.g., do something) or by virtue of personal obligation. Opheilo in the practice of God’s law easily becomes the fulfillment of covenant obligation rather than the response to God on God’s terms for covenant relationship together. In contrast to opheilo, Jesus consistently made a matter definitive and/or imperative (as discussed throughout this study) with the term dei: must, necessary by the nature of things. Yet, for Jesus, a matter was necessary not by the nature of some principle, value or virtue; that would be reductionism, notably of the whole of God. For Jesus, dei involved only by the nature of who and what he is in relationship together with the whole of God (e.g., Mk 8:31), thus defining and determining the nature of how he functioned (e.g., Lk 19:5).
In relational compatibility with Jesus, Christian (biblical) ethics implies a transition from opheilo to dei, the nature of which necessarily involves a transformation to dei by redemptive change from reductionism to be made whole with Jesus in new covenant relationship together. In relational congruence with Jesus, this process of forming Christian ethics is following Jesus in the relational progression to the Father (1) which defines and determines who and what we are in relationship together with the whole of God, and (2) which thus defines and determines the new nature of how we function. Being relationally compatible and congruent with Jesus will then by its nature reconstitute deontological emphasis and refine teleological significance. While Christian ethics may still be considered a teleological type, it is foremost functionally significant as the relational process to wholeness on God’s terms. Therefore, the practice of Christian ethics can be summed up as: the process of living in relationships to be whole only on God’s terms.
How Jesus lived and practiced emerged ongoingly from the who and what of his identity and function to be whole and to make whole—only on God’s terms defining and determining identity, function and practice. The forensic framework—required for ethics to go beyond being merely situational—emerges from God’s terms, which Christian ethics must have as its basis to constitute the integrity and significance necessary to be compelling in all human life and practice. This is the sum of Christian ethics Jesus embodied, and the definitive terms of his embodied ethics he vulnerably disclosed as the communicative action of the whole and holy God and God’s thematic relational work of grace. These terms, only for relationship together to be whole, constitute the specific relational involvement necessary in his kingdom-family to be whole and in the surrounding context to make whole. To grasp the terms for ongoing relational life and practice Jesus disclosed by communicative action, we have to correctly understand both his words and his actions, that is, his whole person in his relational context and process.
As Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount (discussed initially in chapter four), his coming adhered to and cohered with the collective word of God in the OT, not to abolish but to fulfill (Mt 5:17-20). The Sermon on the Mount is framed in the larger context of the OT and thus in the full context of God’s thematic action. What his embodiment adhered to and cohered with, however, was not a mere list of demands of the law, nor a system of ethics and moral obligations (opheilo). The law is God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship together. In his relational context and process, Jesus paid attention not merely to the oral and written word of God but to those words from God—that is, the communication from God. Unlike much of human communication, God’s communicative action is not merely informative for a cognitive purpose, nor was it to announce terms for ethics. God’s communication has distinct authorial intention (as communicator/author) to which Jesus’ embodiment adhered and cohered: God’s thematic relational action in response to the human condition for the purpose only to be whole in relationship together. His incarnation was indeed Emmanuel, God vulnerably present and intimately involved with us for relationship together.
By the nature necessary (dei, not opheilo) of his identity, all of Jesus’ words and action cohered with God’s thematic relational action. Thus, Jesus’ teachings (didache) need to be understood in coherence with the whole of God’s communicative and thematic action, and the terms he disclosed should not be separated from this action. Conjointly, Jesus’ life and practice (including, yet beyond, character and conduct) was both in relational congruence with God’s action in the trinitarian relational context, as well as ongoingly relationally compatible fully to the dynamic grace and love of God’s action by the trinitarian relational process. This relational involvement goes further than character and conduct, and deeper than doing the right ethic or fulfilling moral obligation. Without this relational congruence and relational compatibility, there is no functional coherence with God’s thematic action, and thus with God’s terms for conjoint function to be whole in new covenant relationship together in his kingdom-family and to make whole in relationships together necessary in the surrounding context. And the only alternative to the function of God’s whole is anything less or any substitute of the whole from reductionism, which the study of Christian ethics urgently needs to examine.
As we focus on the definitive terms for Christian ethics Jesus disclosed, we need to pay attention to the whole of his relational context and process—namely, that Jesus’ teaching was communicative action, and that he used relational language to disclose (not merely apokalypto but phaneroo, signifying relational context and process) God’s desires and terms for the function of relationships together to be whole. To grasp his relational language is to receive the whole of Jesus, which necessitates relational involvement and further engaging him in the relational process of discipleship.
As we began our discussion in chapter four, the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) was Jesus’ summary discourse of what we are and who we become, and thus how we live and function—whether in his kingdom-family or the surrounding context—because of whose we are. This directly addressed the issue of human ontology and the determination of the person and wholeness in human practice. The issue here, as is consistently evident throughout the narratives of Jesus, was the tension/conflict between God’s whole and reductionism. Jesus’ conflict with a segment of Judaism was with the reductionist who defined and determined life and practice based on the ontology of the person from the outside in, not from the inside out. Thus, Jesus made imperative for his followers that their righteousness—the integrity and quality of functional involvement which others can expect in relationships—must by the nature of their identity go beyond reductionism (Mt 5:20). That is, this goes beyond merely displaying character traits and practicing the right ethic to the authentic righteousness which functions in likeness to what, who and how God is in relationship.
Righteousness is the process (not attribute) that makes functional our identity as Jesus’ followers and whose we are; and identity formation (as he defined in the beatitudes) is integrated with the process to be righteous (the growth characteristic of the fourth beatitude, 5:6), the extent and depth of which is constituted by the righteous God in relationship together. Identity and righteousness are conjoined to present whole persons in congruence with who, what and how they truly are, namely those constituted with Jesus in his trinitarian relational context and process. Righteousness is necessary so that his followers, by the nature of their identity, can be counted on to be those authentic persons in relationships—both in his kingdom-family and in the surrounding context, nothing less and no substitutes. His summary discourse makes deeply evident this qualitative relational process signifying God’s whole and God’s irreducible and nonnegotiable terms for them to function in relationship together to be whole and to make whole.
The definitive terms Jesus disclosed for the integrity and quality of their functional involvement in relationships (“righteousness” ethics if you wish) are also a necessary function of his followers’ identity based on the ontology of the person from the inside out. This ontology of the person underlies his summary discourse and points to the integrating theme of God’s terms: the function of whole persons (constituted by the involvement of the heart, yet not in dualism) in relationships together (signified by the primacy of intimate involvement) necessary to be whole and to make whole, the function of whom are defined and determined only by the whole of God.
The ontology of the person is a key variable in understanding God’s terms disclosed in this discourse. The lens through which we perceive the person, thus define human identity and determine human function, is ongoingly challenged or influenced by reductionism. This then urgently addresses our perceptual-interpretive framework and holds us accountable for two basic issues: one, how we define our person, and as a result, two, how we do relationships. God’s terms will have either more significance or less depending on our assumptions. Revisit the first part of this discourse as necessary.
As we discussed in chapter four, Jesus clearly defined the process of identity formation for his followers (Mt 5:3-12) and the identity issues of clarity and depth necessary to have qualitative distinction from the common’s function of reductionism, and to distinguish who, what and how we are with others in the surrounding context (5:13-16). This necessitates by its nature (dei, not opheilo) the ontology of the whole person created in the image of God and those persons in relationship together created to be whole in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity; moreover, this is the theological anthropology which coheres with the light. This constitutes the relational compatibility and congruence necessary to function as whose we are. Thus, the remaining sections of Jesus’ summary teachings (a primer for discipleship) for all his followers (5:21-7:27) make evident the function of this new identity conjoined with relational righteousness and the ontology of the whole.
Two common issues about the Sermon on the Mount need brief attention. If God’s terms for the whole of relationship together were disclosed by Jesus essentially for the future life in his kingdom, then present life and practice is negotiable or reducible to our terms. On the other hand, if God’s terms are only high ideals incapable for realistic life and practice, then these terms need to be negotiated or reduced to terms shaped by our prevailing function. Neither future-life interpretation allowing us to ignore his discourse nor high-ideals perception causing us to evade the Sermon on the Mount are correct or an acceptable perceptual-interpretive framework for Jesus’ summary teaching. When the Father made it imperative to “Listen to my Son,” he wants us to pay attention to every word for the whole of relationship together made clearly evident, vulnerably accessible and intimately experienced with the embodied whole of the Word. His terms for necessary (dei) life and practice in the present, therefore, are nonnegotiable and irreducible, and they are to be understood in the incarnation principle of embodiment of the whole: nothing less and no substitutes.
Moreover, along with his relational context and process, Jesus’ summary teachings need to be framed throughout his discourse in the three major interrelated issues for all practice (introduced from the beginning of this study):
As Jesus seeks to constitute his followers in relationships beyond reductionism to the whole of God, his terms need to be understood as directly involving these interrelated issues—which directly also involves the above two basic issues of how we define ourselves and do relationships, and thus, of course, implies how we practice church.
In addition, Jesus’ summary teachings further cohere throughout with the progression and interaction of three critical concerns: (1) self-autonomy, (2) self-determination, and (3) self-justification. It may seem incorrect to say Jesus was addressing something self-oriented in a non-individualistic setting. Yet, in this collective-oriented sociocultural context, self-autonomy was not the modern self-autonomy of individualism in the West but rather the self-autonomy of persons (individually or collectively) who determined function in relationships together “to be apart” from the whole—for example, by the absence of significant involvement while in relationship together, or by merely keeping relational distance in those contexts (cf. Martha and Mary). This pervasively happens in a collective context as well (even in churches in the East and global South), though due to ontological simulation and epistemological illusion it is less obvious than in the individualism of the modern West. The subtlety of self-autonomy (as an individual or a collective) involves the work of reductionism, which signifies its influence. Jesus disclosed the terms to be whole, and thus ongoingly confronted human life and practice reducing the whole in each of these terms. In the process, he broadens and deepens our understanding of sin, and its functional implications and relational repercussions. Therefore, these three concerns evidence the general applicable character of the Sermon on the Mount and the need in particular for all his followers to respond in the present to his summary teaching.
In this section, Jesus began to define specific terms for the function of the new identity formed by the interdependent process of the beatitudes—the new identity redefining the person and transforming persons to be whole. Since he already disclosed his complete (pleroo) compatibility with the Torah (5:17-18), his focus remained on the law of the covenant with the issue being: either essentially reducing (lyo) these commandments (entole) or acting on (poieo) them (5:19). This issue precipitated Jesus’ definitive statement to his followers about the nature of their new identity (righteousness, what and who they are) determining how they function, thus acting on the relational righteousness necessary to go beyond the reductionists (5:20). This involved the interrelated issues outlined above.
The commandments (entole) Jesus focused on was not a specific list of demands, code of behavior, system of obligations or rules of ethics—all denoted by the term entalma, a synonym for commandment. While entalma points directly to its content and stresses what to do, entole stresses the authority of what is commanded, that is, its qualitative relational significance. In other words, with entole Jesus focused on the law beyond merely as the charter for the covenant, but he went further to the whole of God’s desires for covenant relationship together in love (cf. Ex 20:6, Dt 7:9) and deeper to God’s necessary terms for relationship together to be whole in likeness of the Trinity (signified by his emphasis on the Father). Jesus’ teaching engaged this communicative action.
This is not to say that Jesus did away with the entalma of the law. Jewish ceremonial law, for example, served to maintain purity, and thus to have clear distinction as God’s people. Sanctified life and practice serves this same purpose to have qualitative distinction from the common’s function and to be defined only by God as God’s—that is, who they are and whose they are. Yet, Jewish practice (post-exilic Judaism in particular) of the law often fell into ethnocentricism and national protectionism—maintaining the law was a symbol of this—thus essentially reducing God’s terms for covenant relationship and making their collective self-determination an end in itself—that is, merely for themselves rather than as “the light to the nations” for the whole of God and the relationships necessary to be whole. This is how the practice of the law deteriorates when seen only as entalma.
When entalma is the dominant focus, the qualitative relational significance of the law is diminished by this misguided priority, creating an imbalanced emphasis on what to do. Consequently, the law’s purpose for relationship together is made secondary, ignored or even forgotten—pointing to concerns about self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification. When the law is reduced, the primacy of this relationship is lost and thus also its priority. The practice of the law then becomes a code of behavior to adhere to, not about the terms for involvement in the covenant relationship together God desires. Moreover, this signifies that the person presented has been redefined by an outer-in human ontology focused on what one does; and this reduction of the person raises the issue of the quality of one’s communication, while at the same time reducing the level of relationship that person engaged, if at all.
Such reductions have relational consequences both with God and with others, the counter-relational implications of which Jesus contrasted with God’s terms to be whole and to make whole in new covenant relationship together. This is the ongoing tension/conflict between reductionism (and its counter-relational work) and God’s whole (and the relationships necessary to be whole) that Jesus addressed in his summary teaching by juxtaposing the following six examples of the law (or its tradition) with God’s desires. These six examples should not be seen separate from each other but seen together.
When Jesus juxtaposed God’s desires by declaring “But I tell you” (5:22,28,32,34,39,44), he made evident the substantive meaning of the law and the prophets. The focus of entalma on the letter of the law was a prevailing norm in his day. That practice, however, operated essentially as a system of constraints to prevent negative acts, without any responsibility for further action: “Do not murder” (v.21), “Do not commit adultery” (v.27). Based on the ontology of the person from the outside in, which is defined primarily by what one does, this kind of system invariably focused on outward behavior as the main indicator of adherence to the law. No physical murder and adultery meant fulfilling those demands of the law, without consideration of the significance of that behavior. This opened the way for God’s law to be reduced and its function to be shaped by self-autonomy, self-determination or even self-justification. To formulate practice based only on the letter of the law is to reduce the integrity of human ontology in the divine image and to redefine the significance of human identity based on merely the quantitative aspects of what we do. Furthermore, this self-definition also determined how others are perceived and how relationships are done.
For Jesus, this was an inadequate human ontology and an insufficient response to God’s intent for the law. More specifically, it was contrary to both. In contrast, he disclosed the spirit of the law for which to be responsible, thus deepening the involvement necessary on God’s terms. This must by its nature (dei, not opheilo) involve the conjoint function of both: (1) the ontology of the whole person from inner out, thus the words (vv.22,37), thoughts and feelings (v.28) as well as the overt behavior constitute actions; and (2) based on this ontology of the whole, other persons also need to be defined and thus engaged for the relationships together to make and to be whole (vv.23-25,32,34-36,39-42,44-48). By embodying involvement in the spirit of the law, Jesus essentially restores the person and their relationships to their created ontology of God’s whole. Conjointly, the spirit of the law restores the primacy of covenant relationship together and makes definitive its priority in life and practice.
The law signifies God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship together. This is neither about merely avoiding the wrong behavior nor about a code of merely the right thing to do, neither about not making mistakes nor about trying to be right—that is, about mere ethics. This action becomes legalistic and its preoccupation is legalism. Rather these are terms for relationship together and how to be involved, thus the positive action to live whole necessary to make relationships whole. Yet, even the specific prescriptions Jesus presented to these six examples should not be taken as an end-practice for ethics; they are only provisional steps in the relational process to wholeness. For example, merely clearing up something someone has against you is not the sum of reconciliation—nor all that peace involves—yet is a provisional step to that end to be whole. When Christian ethics stops at provisional steps, its practice will not function to be whole and make whole but only as a reductionist substitute.
Jesus clearly countered the underlying concern of the reductionists about doing the “right” thing by the letter, which did not serve to lead them to this positive action. While refraining from negative behavior certainly has some value, the absence of positive action is of greater importance to God—evidencing the deeper significance of God’s design and purpose for those relational terms involving murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, an eye for an eye, and love for enemies. As the counterpart to legalism, even moralism is not the righteousness God expects and Jesus constitutes in his followers. Moralists and legalists are misguided in thinking that such conformity is congruent with, and even compatible to, God’s desires and who, what and how God is. Conversely, we should not be thinking in the limits of mere conformity to God’s terms, which would tend to become merely about doing the right thing.
On the other hand, since the law signifies God’s terms for relationship together, this certainly makes the practice of God’s law the function only of our whole person, thus making practice vulnerable (vv.44,46-47), threatening (vv.39-42), if not even demanding (vv.29-30) for us. Yet, the further responsibility of God’s desires in the spirit of the law is not given to burden or constrain human persons. It was disclosed only for relationships together to be whole; and the various terms of this deeper responsibility signify positive relational opportunities to grow in the new identity of our whole person to make relationships together whole. The interrelated focus and conjoint function between the whole person and relationships together always emerges in the whole of Jesus’ words and action because they embody the essential relational ontology of who, what and how the triune God is. In his summary teaching, Jesus is giving us understanding of the heart of God’s desires for human persons and the integrating purpose for God’s terms vital for his followers together. As we reflect on these six examples together juxtaposed in this section, they clearly disclose the loving purpose God has: to relationally belong in the relationships together as the whole of God’s family.
Without the spirit of the law, we have no grasp of God’s law and God’s thematic intent for the law in response to the human condition “to be apart” from God’s whole. Without the spirit of the law, Christian ethics has no basis to constitute the integrity and significance necessary to be compelling for even Christian life and practice, much less for all human life and practice. In his summary teaching, Jesus conjoins the spirit of the law to the law to qualify the application of the letter of the law. Yet, Jesus disclosed that this forensic interpretive framework is constituted further in the qualitative relational context, and deeper by the intimate relational process of the whole of God. This signifies the relational language by which his teaching needs to be received in order to be understood, and constitutes how it must by its nature (dei) be responded to in order to be experienced.
The relational dynamic underlying the spirit of the law goes beyond merely a greater flexibility (than legalism) and application (than moralism) of God’s law. Its whole function is to lead persons into involvement in their relationships with others—namely, to care for and to love persons not merely in their situations and circumstances but foremost in relationship together. Jesus is taking us to a further and deeper level of relationships, beyond our prevailing ways of doing relationships. With the spirit of the law he made evident: (1) what it means to love, (2) the intimate relational process of love, and (3) the integrity and dignity of the persons involved in this process. This necessitates the inner-out human ontology signified conjointly by the importance of the heart and the primacy of relationships in which hearts open and engage others for relationship together. This practice is qualitatively different than the letter of the law; the spirit of the law defines and determines the relational involvement necessary to be whole in the whole of God, with the whole of God and for the whole of God.
The function of this human ontology and its qualitative relational process, however, are ongoingly challenged by reductionism and its counter-relational work. Each of the six examples represents a situation or circumstance which can: either redefine our person and let that determine how we function in that relationship; or, instead, be an opportunity to grow in being our whole person and to function in that relationship to live whole and make whole. The former alternative involves a contrary dynamic. For these situations and circumstances to redefine who and what we are, and to determine how we function, implies that we react to other persons in these contexts essentially out of a concern for self-autonomy. We are reduced to merely reactors by pursuits in self-autonomy, thus ironically indicating an absence of freedom, rather than being free to function as respondors by the relational involvement of love for the sake of God’s whole.
This self-autonomy emerges in the priority or dominance given progressively to: (1) self-interests, for example, signified in acting on anger or sexual desires (involving issues of how the person is defined and relationships are done); (2) self-concerns, for example, signified by unwarranted divorce (overlapping in self-interest), or depending on oaths for validation (involving issues of the significance of the person presented, integrity of one’s communication and level of relationship engaged); and (3) self-centeredness, for example, signified by seeking restitution/revenge (overlapping with self-concern), or keeping relational distance with those who contest you, are different or are simply not in your social network (involving issues of how the person is defined and level of relationship engaged). The concern for self-autonomy overlaps into self-determination and interacts with the major and basic issues outlined above.
Each of these six expressions of self-autonomy can find some justification, yet at the expense of reducing human ontology and reinforcing reductionism’s counter-relational work “to be apart” from the whole of relationships together. The persons involved are reduced to less than whole persons, and relationships become self-oriented instead of relationships together—even in a collective context. This is the contrary dynamic Jesus confronted by juxtaposing the qualitative relational significance of the whole of God’s terms necessary for relationships together to be whole, and to be made whole as needed. In the process, he deepens our understanding of sin by introducing us to the functional workings of the sin of reductionism. His summary teaching exposes the sin of countering (knowingly or inadvertently) God’s desires, as well as God’s created relational design and purpose, by reducing one’s own person and then reducing other persons to reinforce the human condition “to be apart.”
The terms Jesus made definitive in this discipleship primer restores this fragmentation, and thus functions for his followers as the definitive call to be whole. Even his apparent severe injunction in 5:29-30 serves this purpose. This is not a mere injunction to prevent sexual sin, thus not about self-mutilation—which in effect would be reductionism. (Remember, Jesus used relational language in his teaching.) This action was about decisively not letting one part of our body or human make-up (viz. “eliminating” its use to) redefine and determine our whole person (cf. 1 Sam 11:2, dishonor persons), and likewise not looking at other persons in only certain parts of their body or make-up as a consequence of fragmenting their person. His strong prescription paradoxically is about restoring such fragmentation to be whole and to engage others to live whole—involving the issue of the depth level of relationship engaged based on the issue of how the person is defined.
The only alternative to function in anything less or any substitute of our whole person is to function in nothing less and no substitute of who, what and how we are in our new identity formed through the beatitudes in relational involvement with Jesus as his followers together. Following Jesus in his relational context and process involves us in the relational progression to his Father for relationship together in the whole of God’s family, thus constituting us as his very own daughters and sons by the redemptive process of adoption (as discussed previously). The function of this relationship together in this new identity (sanctified identity) is only on the whole of God’s terms Jesus made definitive in his summary teaching. Therefore, these terms for function are irreducible to any alternative or substitute—notably to human ontology and relationships together—and are nonnegotiable for all self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification.
To provide clarity and depth of function for this new identity on God’s terms, Jesus concluded this section with the functional key ( the first of three for the entire discourse) to which the six examples converge and sanctified identity’s life and practice coheres.
First Functional Key: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).
Jesus directed this to those who have been adopted by his Father into God’s family. Moments earlier he said essentially “Love others (even those against you) to be the whole of your identity, that you may begin to function (ginomai, begin to be) as the sons and daughters of your Father in heaven” (5:44-45a). It was a recognized responsibility in the ancient Mediterranean world for adopted children to represent their new Father and to extend his name. Jesus defined this responsibility here but qualified it essentially with this key: “You are to be involved with others as your heavenly Father is involved with others, notably with you.” This is the relational significance of agape love, which Jesus embodied to fulfill God’s thematic action to make us whole in relationship together. Now he calls his followers to embody this love in relationships together to be the whole of God’s family and to make whole for God’s family—to embody, however, not merely as his followers but further and deeper as their Father’s very own sons and daughters. The seventh beatitude (5:9) coheres with this key to give depth of meaning to the practice of peace (wholeness).
Once again, Jesus’ emphasis here is not on what to do but on how to be involved with others. Yet, certainly, we cannot be involved with others to the extent in quantity or quality as God is involved. That was not what he stressed in this key. Quantity, like ethical or moral quantity, is not the goal of “be perfect.” Jesus’ intent is focused on involvement with others by “how” (hos) God is involved; this is not an unrealistic ideal since God created us “to be” (eimi, verb of existence) in the image and likeness of the Trinity, to which the identity as the light points. While “perfect” can never be the outcome of what we do and how we do it, “perfect” (teleios, describing persons who have reached their purpose, telos, thus are full-grown, mature) can indeed “be” (eimi) the growing function (viz. ginomai in v.45) of who, what and how we are as the very daughters and sons of the whole of God’s family.
Thus, the first functional key becomes: “Live to be (eimi) whole and then make whole as your Father is whole in the Trinity and is vulnerably present and intimately involved to make us whole in relationship together as his family.”
Jesus does not want his followers “to become” reduced to mere reactors to that situation or circumstance and to those persons; that would be counter-relational work. He calls us “to be” persons who live in relationships to be whole and function to make relationships whole, thus free to be respondors in love. His call and its function are ongoingly challenged to be redefined and determined by reductionism, notably with subtle self-autonomy apart from God’s terms. This first functional key begins to form the basis necessary for the process of triangulation in relational congruence with the triangulation Jesus used to engage the surrounding contexts and relationships with persons in those contexts without being redefined or determined by reductionism. Just as it was for Jesus, the main aspect of this triangulation process is ongoing intimate involvement in relationship together with our Father and the whole of God. In this relational involvement, the three major issues for all practice are also addressed ongoingly.
Relational involvement with our Father is the guiding point of reference for the function of our sanctified identity in the surrounding contexts and in relationships with persons in those contexts, including in his kingdom-family. Furthermore, this involvement is the dynamic necessary for Jesus’ followers to embody the reciprocating contextualization to clearly both be whole and make whole. In the next section, Jesus takes this relational process even further and deeper.
In this discipleship primer preempted by assumptions about the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus constitutes his followers in the relational righteousness that by its nature functions beyond reductionism. Relational righteousness is the process to ensure that our identity as his followers functions unambiguously in ongoing life and practice. It is crucial for our identity to be in conjoint function with relational righteousness in order to present whole persons in congruence with the nature of our full identity, thus as those who can be counted on to be those authentic persons in relationships—both with God and with others, in his kingdom-family and in the surrounding context, nothing less and no substitutes. Christian identity without righteousness is problematic and merely righteousness without wholeness of identity is equally problematic (cf. 5:20), which Jesus made evident in this section. This addresses deeply two of the major issues for all practice: the significance of the person we present to others and the integrity and quality of our communication.
Jesus began this section immediately focused on righteousness with the imperative to his followers essentially to: “Pay attention to (prosecho) how your righteousness functions” (6:1). Righteousness is neither a static attribute nor a function in a vacuum, so Jesus is not pointing to mere introspection. The significance of righteousness is not isolated to the individual but only as it affects relationships in some way. In what way it does directly depends on the person presented. All relationships are affected by the specific presentation each participant makes, thus the quality of any relationship depends of the accuracy of that presentation. This is where righteousness needs to have congruence with who and what a person truly is, or else others cannot have confidence in what to expect or count on from that person. Christian identity without righteousness is acutely problematic, rendered by Jesus earlier in his discourse as insignificant or useless (5:13).
God’s righteousness is absolutely essential for our confidence in how the whole of God (not merely some part of God) will be in relationship together. This makes evident that righteousness without wholeness of identity is also problematic, which in this section Jesus makes imperative to go beyond reductionism. In other words, a partial or inaccurate presentation, or semblance of the person are insufficient to establish confidence and generate trust in relationships. Authenticity of the person is needed, which is the function of relational righteousness. The incarnation made evident God’s righteousness since Jesus presented the embodied whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement. How we present our person to others involves this issue of authenticity and the function of righteousness, thus what others can expect and count on from us—including what God expects (cf. Jn 4:23-24, discussed previously).
How we function in the truth of who and what we are emerges from the significance of the person we present. In this section of his summary teaching, Jesus continued to expose the workings of reductionism and disclosed the deeper process of relational righteousness, namely in direct relationship with God. Paying attention to how our righteousness functions involves examining not only the person presented, this also further involves understanding our perceptual-interpretive framework and the human ontology by which we live and practice.
To make definitive what God expects in relationship together, Jesus focused specifically on three important areas of religious practice and prevailing methods of enacting them: giving to the needy (6:2-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18). In each of these relational contexts, Jesus juxtaposed relationship with “your Father” (with the emphasis on your Father, not merely the Father, 6:1,4,6,8,14,15,18) and also his conflict with prevailing methods signified by the term hypokrites (6:2,5,16). I prefer not to use its English rendering (hypocrite) because of its limited connotation. Jesus broadens our understanding of this term and takes us deeper into the process behind it. This is crucial to grasp since it not only involved a prevailing norm in his day, it also involves a prominent mindset and practice today. While sincerity is an issue of hypokrites, it is not the main issue. The primary issue involves the function of the whole person verses the enactment of a reduced version of the person in reduced life and practice (cf. our previous discussion contrasting metamorphoo and metaschematizo).
Besides our perceptual-interpretive framework and our operating human ontology of the person presented, other issues which interact with this part of his teaching are: how we define our person and do relationships, thus the integrity and quality of our communication and the level of relationship engaged. And the overriding issue throughout this section of his summary teaching is the concern for self-determination. What follows in this section is a progression from self-autonomy in the previous section because self-determination is always in ongoing interaction with self-autonomy and coheres with that section’s teaching.
As noted previously, hypokrites involved playing a role or taking on an identity different than one’s true self. Just like an actor, this presentation of a person was made to a crowd, an audience, observers, that is, before others with interest, or anyone who took notice. When Jesus focused on righteousness, he was specific about “paying attention that you do not live your righteousness before others to be seen” (6:1, italics mine). The term for “to be seen” (theaomai) denotes to view attentively, deliberately observing an object to perceive its detail. In other words, this is a presentation intended to be observed and noticed by others. Moreover, theaomai (related to theoreo) involves more than merely seeing (as in blepo, to be discussed shortly); the observer regards the object with a sense of wonderment (maybe even imagination) in order to perceive it in detail. This implies that there is a certain effect, image, even illusion, that the “actor” seeks to establish about one’s presentation of self, which will result in a response “to be honored” by observers, and ultimately by God (6:2). The term doxazo, from doxa (glory), denotes to recognize, honor, praise. Whether performed overtly (as Jesus illustrated) or enacted simply in performing a role of service (as commonly seen in Christian ministries), this points to the self-determination motivating the act. This is what they seek and this is all they will experience, as Jesus said unequivocally: “they have received their reward in full” (6:2,5,16) with “no reward from your Father” (6:2). Consider also how the person is defined, how relationships are done and the level of relationship engaged.
This practice was addressed further when Jesus exposed such efforts “to be seen” in prayer (6:5) and “to show” others their acts of fasting (v.16). The same term (phaino) is used for both, which denotes to appear, be conspicuous, become visible—that is, essentially to be recognized by others for one’s presentation of self, and, of course, ultimately be recognized by God. Both of these acts were accentuated to elevate (v.7) or dramatize (v.16) the effects for greater attention, thus greater recognition and honor. Whether elevated, dramatized or performed simply in religious duty, the effort for self-determination underlying these acts is clearly evident; and for some persons, this effort also overlaps into self-justification.
While the term phaino comes from phos (light), there is no clarity of light in this practice, even if punctuated with correct doctrine or accentuated with the right ethic and spiritual discipline. The identity of light in this presentation of the person is ambiguous at best, and mainly just reduced to outer simulation and inner illusion. In the absence of relational righteousness, there is no basis for authenticity of the person presented or of the integrity and quality of the person’s communication. This is how we need to understand hypokrites and perceive its operation today—not so much as a blatant lie or subversion of the truth but as the reductionist substitute (sometimes even enacted unintentionally) for authenticity of the whole person, and thus for the function of one’s full identity with others, notably with God. When the pursuit of recognition and affirmation is left to self-determination, it invariably becomes reduced to being seen by others and how others perceive what one does, thus easily compromising the authentic presentation of self “to be seen in a better light.”
This is the purpose for Jesus making imperative the ongoing need to pay attention to how our righteousness functions. It has direct relational implications for determining the level of relationship we engage. In highlighting these three important areas of religious practice, his concern is foremost our relationship with our Father and the level of relationship we engage with him. The major implication of merely performing roles in Christian duty is the significance of the specific relational messages we communicate to God implied in such practice: first, about how we see ourselves—with an outer-in human ontology and the responsibility for fulfilling obligations by self-determination; next, about how we see God—that God is similar to us, and thus sees us as we see ourselves, holding us accountable to fulfill our obligations by self-determination; and then about our relationship together—it functions neither on the basis of grace nor on the intimate relational involvement of agape, which would be on God’s terms, but rather it functions on the basis of obligation (opheilo) and fulfilling those expectations (from entalma, not entole), thus the preoccupation with what we do, reducing the relationship to our terms. There are assumptions about God made in these relational messages which we have no right to make—assumptions which Jesus corrected with the relational truth of the Father (discussed below).
These are pivotal relational messages implied in such practice constituted by self-determination. Their significance reflects a perceptual-interpretive framework and an outer-in ontology of the person which reduce life and practice to quantitative (over qualitative) function embedded in reductionism. How self-determination emerges in this process that reduces life and practice to quantitative function involves a two-fold dynamic: (1) it reduces function and practice to what a person can both control (overlapping with self-autonomy) and thus manage to accomplish for success in determining one’s self, identity and worth (in contrast, qualitative function necessitates more from the whole person); yet (2), this cannot be determined in a spiritual vacuum or in social isolation, but by necessity of its quantitative approach can only be determined in comparison (and competition) with others, thus the use of quantitative indicators to ascribe “better” or “less” to self-definition, identity and worth, and to establish higher and lower positions in stratified relationships (overlapping with self-justification, cf. 7:1-5, discussed in the next section). This reductionist focus becomes the preoccupation (even compulsion or obsession) in practice with the relational consequence implied in the above relational messages; and ethical and moral practice alone does not address this.
In contrast and conflict, Jesus disclosed the intimate relational messages from his Father, both in these three areas of religious practice and the rest of this section. He made eleven references to “your Father” (6:1,4,6,8,14,15,18,26,32)—vital relational messages about how our Father feels toward us and defines the nature of our relationship with him. In conflict with self-determined pursuit of recognition and validation, Jesus embodied God’s relational work of grace, and in his teaching he communicated the holy and transcendent God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement. From the midst of this apparent litany of prescriptions and injunctions emerged his relational language clearly divulging the intimate involvement and response of our heavenly Father. Contrary to the reductionist effort to be seen, he fully disclosed that “your Father sees” (6:4,6,18). The term for “sees” (blepo) is the most basic of a word-group having to do with sight and observation; others include horao, theoreo and theaomai discussed earlier. Blepo simply denotes exercising one’s capacity of sight, to look at with interest, to be distinctly aware of—suggesting an intentional or deliberate act (cf. 5:28, the implication of blepo as a relational act). The significance of his disclosure that your Father simply blepo is vital to what Jesus taught about these practices.
Jesus did not compartmentalize various acts (like giving to the needy) to different areas of function, thus fragmenting the person (“…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” 6:3). Nor, in this, was he suggesting to be subconscious in practice (“so that your giving may be in secret,” v.4); rather he was directly addressing the issue of practice becoming self-conscious, that is, self-oriented (for recognition) instead of giving self in relational involvement with the person(s) receiving. Jesus rendered such practice unfulfilling and unnecessary. Likewise for praying (6:6-7) and fasting (6:17-18), Jesus was not suggesting these practices be inconspicuous, nor inward or detached. These are relational acts of involvement for relationship together—namely, prayer as a means for greater intimacy with God, and fasting as a means of submission to God for deeper relationship. And Jesus targeted the authenticity of the whole person in intimate relational involvement together with our Father, nothing less and no substitutes.
Thus, Jesus declared the experiential truth for relationship together: our Father blepo us because he is relationally involved with us; such giving of our whole person to others (in service) and to God (in prayer and fasting) is relationally compatible to his involvement and is relationally congruent with how he sees us, as well as both defines our relationship together and functions in it. Jesus used the term “secret” (kryptos) to describe this relational involvement together. In an apparent play on words, kryptos (6:4,6,18) is in juxtaposition to hypokrites (6:2,5,16). Kryptos means hidden and hypokrites functions essentially to hide the whole person. Yet, in function they are contrary and in conflict. Kryptos (“in secret”) signifies the qualitative relational function of the whole person (constituted by the heart) in intimate involvement in relationship together, which hypokrites avoids and/or precludes this deeper involvement by the quantitative function of reductionism. Since this involvement signifies the relational truth of how God functions, our Father blepo intimately “what is done in secret,” that is, what has qualitative relational significance from the inner out of the person. Our Father neither needs to use wonderment or imagination (as in theaomai) to see what we are, nor does he need deep contemplation (as in horao) to experience who and how we are, as we need to experience him. Our Father simply blepo the truth of the person presented, thus he intimately knows what, who and how we are, including what we need (6:8).
In this relational process, then, he “will reward you” (misthos, wages, recompense received, 6:4,6,18), which needs to be understood in his relational context and process and not by a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework. Jesus is using only relational language to build relationship together. “Reward” involves our Father’s relational response to us—not with quantitative things, secondary matter, or on our terms—by giving his intimate Self further and deeper (including some things or matter, yet not on our terms). In this intimate relational outcome and experience, we are clearly being recognized for what we are and affirmed for who we are as persons belonging to his own family.
Jesus wholly embodied and thus vulnerably disclosed our Father’s intimately relationship-specific involvement with us, which is the basis for his Father’s imperative “Listen to my Son.” This is the experiential truth of their authentic presentation of their whole persons, with nothing less and no substitutes than what, who and how the whole of God is. In this teaching as the whole of God’s communicative action, Jesus called his followers to be whole in what, who and how we present of our person in relationship together with him, our Father, the whole of God.
As a relational means for, and an ongoing relational response of, the function of our full identity in relational righteousness together, Jesus taught us this summary prayer using only relational language to build relationship together: the Lord’s Prayer, a functional outline for relational communication humbly submitted directly to our holy (hagiazo) Father for relationship together as family (6:9) only on the whole of God’s terms (v.10) in order to be made whole, to live whole and to make whole for God’s family (vv.11-12), which necessitates neutralizing the influence (“temptation,” peirasmos) of reductionism and being disengaged (“deliver,” rhyomai) from its counter-relational work, authored and ongoingly promoted by Satan (v.13). These relational messages (about him, our relationship and our person), ongoingly communicated to our Father in humble response back to the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole of God, constitute the integrity and quality of our communication (involving the three major issues for our practice). This then signifies the engagement of our whole person at the level of intimate involvement in relationship together—in the relationships necessary to be whole.
Just as with the incarnation of Jesus, this relational process begins with embodiment of the person. The significance of any embodiment, or incarnation, is a function of the person presented in relational context. The incarnation of Jesus had ultimate significance because Jesus presented his whole person vulnerably in relationship and functionally embodied the whole of God, nothing less and no substitutes. Likewise, the embodiment of our person only has significance in this relational process when it is the function of our whole person presented for intimate involvement in relationship together. Anything less and any substitutes for the whole (of our person and of God) are a function of reductionism, notably and subtly emerging from self-determination. Jesus continued in this section to directly address the issue of whom and what we will pursue.
Anything less and any substitutes of our whole person are incongruent with the person created in the image of God (cf. 6:25b-28), and thus incompatible for intimate relationship together with the whole of God. Jesus made this clearly evident in his remaining teaching. The influence of reductionism pervades our perceptual-interpretive framework and how we see things (6:23), thus defining our priorities and determining our primary pursuits (6:19,24). As noted previously, the eyes and the heart are interrelated functions for the whole person, which Jesus made evident earlier (5:28, cf. Job 31:7, Ecc 11:9). He now also interrelated their functions to the ongoing tension-conflict issue of reductionism of the whole. In function, Jesus said “For what defines you also determines where your heart (signifying the whole person) will be also” (6:21). In conjoint function, he made evident that what the eyes focus on determines the function of our identity as the light, that is, the full identity of our whole person (6:22-23). And he unequivocally delineated the complete incompatibility between reductionism and God’s whole, as well as exposed any illusion that we can pursue and function in both (6:24).
The lens from reductionism focuses on quantitative matter and function, thus pays attention to (or preoccupied with) the quantitative aspects of life and practice—namely in what we do and have—while ignoring (or making secondary) the qualitative areas and functions of persons and relationships together. Jesus reconstitutes this reductionism by restoring the qualitative function of the heart to constitute the whole person. Only the heart in qualitative function signifies the presence of the whole person—no matter how much quantitative practice accentuates the person presented. Conjointly, Jesus restored the primacy of relationship by constituting whole persons in the relationship together necessary to be whole. These are the qualitative intimate relationships, which by their nature are the function of only the hearts of whole persons opening to each other and coming together. This is the intimacy in relational congruence with the whole of God and God’s vulnerable presence, and the intimacy necessary to be relationally compatible with God’s ongoing intimate involvement. This is the relational outcome and experience “in secret” divulged by Jesus, in which the whole of God seeks our vulnerable presence and intimate involvement.
Yet, self-determination continues its urgent call also. Situations and circumstances in life and practice always emerge seeking to define who we are and what our priorities are, and thus to determine how we function. The ongoing issue is whether those matters (however large or small) need to be determined by our own efforts, which overtly or covertly constitute self-determination—however normative the practice, even in Christian culture. Or, “therefore” (dia, on this account, for this reason) as Jesus said (6:25-32)—given our Father’s involvement with us and the nature of our relationship together—we can entrust our person ongoingly to our Father to define who we are and what our priorities are, and thus to determine how we function in whatever situations and circumstances because our Father is both intimately involved (both “sees” and “knows,” 6:32b) and lovingly responsive (6:26,30) with us in reciprocal relationship together.
This relationally penetrating polemic led to the second functional key to provide clarity and depth for the intimate relational involvement of our full identity in relational righteousness with our Father.
Second Functional Key: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (6:33).
“Seek” (zeteo, actively pursue to experience) in Jesus’ relational language is not about obligatory striving (opheilo) to belong to God’s kingdom, which becomes self-determination overlapping into self-justification. Likewise, “seek” is not about striving for an attribute of righteousness, and thus to be righteous in likeness to his to justify and/or ensure receiving “all these things.” Nor is this about practicing mere “kingdom ethics.” In his relational language, the imperative of zeteo, by the nature (dei) of God’s terms, is the qualitative pursuit of the whole of God (“his righteousness”) for intimate relationship together in his family (“kingdom”). This qualitative pursuit necessarily (dei) involves the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole person, constituted by the heart from the inner out, nothing less and no substitutes; such a pursuit, then, provides the clarity and depth for both who we are and whose we are in relationship together as his very own daughters and sons. This intimate relational process of belonging to his family and participating in his life has the relational outcome of ongoingly experiencing the whole of God further and deeper, as well as receiving what belongs to our Father in his family—the qualitative relational significance of “all these things” necessary to be made whole, to live whole and to make whole.
This functional key also provides the relational process by which our Lord’s summary prayer needs to be submitted to our Father and from which it will be fulfilled in his reciprocal relational response. Moreover, this key relational process coheres with the interrelated process between the fourth and sixth beatitudes (5:6,8). The second functional key of pursuing our Father on his terms further forms—conjointly with the first functional key of living how our Father loves us—the basis for the process of triangulation by making functional in our life and practice the main aspect of this triangulation process: ongoing intimate involvement in relationship together with our Father and the whole of God as family. Guided from this intimate relational point of reference, we are defined in the surrounding context by the trinitarian relational context of family, and how we function in relationships and in all our situations and circumstances is determined by the trinitarian relational process of family love for relationships together to be whole.
With the focus on this pursuit in our life and practice, it becomes unnecessary (not to mention insufficient) to self-determine the course of our life “into the future” (eis, motion determining action). Instead, ongoingly engage, without reductionism (implied by the daily presence of “enough trouble,” kakia, evil), the level of reciprocal involvement of intimate relationship together with the whole of God and the level of involvement with other relationships necessary to be whole and to make whole, just as Jesus projected (with the subjunctive mood) to close this section (6:34).
Self-determination is never an individual action (or an individual group action) done in isolation from others (or other groups). Self-determination is a social phenomenon requiring a process of comparison to others to establish the standards of measuring success or failure in self-determination. Invariably, these comparative (and competitive) differences lead to “better” or “less” social position (historically, even ontological nature, as seen in racism), thus the operation of stratified relationships together (formalized in systems of inequality). When relationships become separated, partitioned or fragmented, there is a basis of justification needed either to access a “better” position or to embed/maintain others in a “less” position. The pursuit of this basis is the effort for self-justification (by individual or group). That is to say, the effort for self-determination inevitably becomes the function in social context for self-justification; and the results of this effort invariably come at the expense of others, even unknowingly or inadvertently.
Jesus continued to expose the dynamics of reductionism, its counter-relational work and the functional workings of the sin of reductionism countering the whole of God’s desires. In his initial teaching, the subtle shift of self-determination to self-justification emerged from an invalid application of “righteousness”—or an inadequate practice of ethics and morality—to effectively create distinctions (“with the measure you use”) of “better” and “less” for relational position in religious and social context (7:1-2). This so-called righteousness was not merely about “the holier the better” but about “holier than thou.” Judgment based on an outer-in human ontology evidenced their reductionism, with the relational consequence from counter-relational practice diminishing relationship together to be whole (7:3-4). This mere role performance of righteousness (even with good intentions, e.g., by church leaders) is characteristic of hypokrites and is a function of the sin of reductionism lacking the inner-out practice of the whole person constituted by the heart (7:5). In addition, to be whole is the outcome of God’s relational work of grace, not self-determination, thus humility precludes self-justification—for example, humility in ethical and moral practice, or in spiritual development, which would involve epistemic humility.
The dynamics of reductionism in religious/Christian life and practice is embedded in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of God’s whole. Yet, Jesus exposed the efforts of self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification as insufficient (not to mention unnecessary) to be whole. Reductionism and the whole are incompatible. Moreover, they cannot be conjoined in any pluralistic or syncretistic way, and any attempt to do so will fragment the whole. It is the integrity and significance of this whole which Jesus pointed to in a vivid illustration of the issue of whom/what we will pursue (7:6). This verse is not merely an added injunction thrown into his discourse but needs to be directly integrated into this issue at hand. Given the full identity of his family in relationship together to be whole, to function in anything less is to pursue an alternative substitute of reductionism, even with good intentions. The dynamics Jesus described is consequential: The integrity (“sacred”) and significance (“pearls”) of your whole person and relationship together in essence are impulsively thrown (ballo) to reductionists, who treat with disdain (katapateo) anything whole, and even turn (strepho) on you to break down your wholeness and leave you fragmented (rhegnymi). While this may appear as hyperbole, the dynamic is rightfully described because of the essential violence reductionism exerts on the whole—even though the influence reductionism exerts, notably in its counter-relational work, tends to be a very subtle process, even appearing in Christian roles (cf. 2 Cor 11:14-15) or as the Christian norm, for example, in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of God’s whole.
The choice of whom/what we will pursue is really quite simple, as Jesus’ summary teaching made definitive: God’s whole or anything less and any substitute. Yet, the results are profoundly consequential, as Jesus made evident in this concluding section of his most major discourse with his followers.
The summary word embodied by Jesus to communicate the whole of God’s desires is simply: self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification are insufficient and unnecessary, no matter how their practice is punctuated and accentuated. The summary experiential truth embodied by Jesus to fulfill the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition “to be apart” is profoundly: God does not define our person based on what we do and have, thus the whole of God’s vulnerable involvement and intimate response is fully based on the Trinity’s relational work of grace for relationship together to be whole—the whole of God’s family.
These are the whole of God’s terms and the only way the Trinity does relationships. Since this precludes self-autonomy, makes self-determination unnecessary and renders self-justification insufficient, Jesus invited his followers to partake of God’s relational work of grace (7:7-8). Yet, God’s grace constitutes involvement only on God’s terms, not to partake for self-determination (or indulgence) on our terms. Conjointly, then, “ask…seek…knock” signify only our reciprocal relational work of involvement to be whole together in intimate relationship with our Father and his relational work of grace. His vulnerable involvement and intimate response can be counted on because of his relational righteousness (7:9-11), and participating in his life in this reciprocal relationship together necessitates by its nature (dei, not opheilo) our relational righteousness. On the basis of God’s relational work of grace for this relational experience together—our Father’s intimate involvement and response of love—Jesus disclosed the third functional key, commonly known by its reductionist title, the Golden Rule.
Third Functional Key: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (7:12).
This teaching tends to be reduced by interpreting it only in the limited context involving us with others. This bases how we do relationships with others on the self-orientation formulated from two basic issues (which Jesus addressed throughout his summary teaching): (1) how we define our person, and thus, on this basis, (2) how we do relationships. If this self-orientation has been influenced by reductionism, then “in everything we do to others” will not go beyond and deeper than a reductionist practice of how we do relationships based on a reductionist self-definition. In other words, what we desire others to act on (thelo) in relation to us will always be seen through this lens, which in turn will determine how we function with them. This use of self-orientation, even with the best of intentions as the Golden Rule, is insufficient basis for our life and practice “in everything”—for example, even for Christian ethical decisions and practice. Moreover, the practice emerging from this approach is inadequate to be the sum and substance (eimi, what is) of the law and the prophets (i.e., God’s communicated Word), which Jesus vulnerably embodied in his teaching for relationship together to be whole.
The alternative to this reduction is the whole. The third functional key cannot be limited to only the context involving us with others, which would then take it out of its whole context, as the Golden Rule does. Its whole context involves us further and deeper than this. This functional key can only be understood in the relational context of “your Father” and grasped by his relational process in intimate relationship together, which is the relational context and process Jesus disclosed and made definitive in his summary teaching. That is to say, in our Father’s relational context and process we have engaged vulnerable relationship together and have been intimately involved to experience the whole of God’s mercy, grace and agape involvement to be made whole. In his relational context and process, we ongoingly experience being redefined as whole persons, redeemed from reductionism and its sin, transformed necessarily in human ontology from the inner out and reconstituted in the relationships necessary to be whole. From this experience we know: (1) how we want to be seen (from the inner-out human ontology), (2) how we want to be treated by others (as whole persons, nothing less), and (2) what we want to experience in relationships (the intimacy together to be whole, no substitutes).
Therefore, on the basis of this relational experience together with our Father, Jesus calls those made whole to live whole “in everything,” notably with others in relationships to make whole. In other words, to paraphrase his third function key: Use what you are intimately experiencing in your relationship with ‘your Father’ as the basis for defining and determining how to function with others, both in his kingdom-family and in the surrounding context—‘in everything’ live to be whole and make whole.”
This points to the triangulation process. The third functional key completes the basis for the process of triangulation by making definitive the relational experience of being made whole in relationship together with our Father. In conjoint function with the second functional key (of pursuing our Father in relationship together as family on his terms), the third functional key uses what is being experienced in that intimate relationship to interact in conjoint function with the first functional key (of living how our Father loves us). Functioning together, these three functional keys provide this intimate relational point of reference by which to be guided in order to be defined in any context by the trinitarian relational context of family and to function in any relationship by the trinitarian relational process of family love. Triangulation with our Father takes us further than the right ethics and merely doing the right thing, and engages us deeper than acting in life and practice as mere reactors to others in situations and circumstances. As Jesus embodied and calls us to embody in likeness, triangulation with our Father takes our whole person and engages us to be involved with others just as he is involved with us for relationship together necessary to be whole, God’s whole.
Jesus embodied the whole of God’s thematic action and relational work of grace in response to the human condition “to be apart” from God’s whole, nothing less and no substitutes; thus he functioned on God’s terms signified in the law and the prophets for relationship together to be whole—terms irreducible and nonnegotiable, embodying the whole of God’s Word. Our embodiment, in likeness without reduction, will function in our full identity with relational righteousness to be also the sum and substance of the whole of God’s word—to function both in loving involvement to be whole and in loving response to make whole.
Without ongoing relational function in these three functional keys (all about our Father) and the triangulation process, Christian life and practice is left with only alternatives to the whole. To pursue, settle for or be resigned to anything less and any substitutes for the whole is to engage in reductionism. Jesus made clearly evident in the juxtaposition of reductionism with the whole throughout his summary discourse that there is no other alternative in-between. Consequently, in each moment, situation, circumstance and relationship encountered in our life and practice, we are faced with the decisions of what is going to define us and what will determine how we function, notably with others in relationships. And we have only two alternatives (7:13-14): God’s whole, which is irreducible and nonnegotiable, thus imperative to only one function (“narrow gate and road”); or anything less and any substitutes, which is amenable to any variation away from the whole, thus adaptable to various functions (“wide gate and road”). “Gate” is a metaphor for what defines and determines us, while “road” is a metaphor for the ongoing function in our practice emerging from that “gate.” The wide one leads away (apago) from the whole to loss (apoleia, i.e., reduction) or ultimate ruin, while the narrow one brings before (apago, same word for opposite dynamic) the zoe of the whole of God and to the qualitative relational function of zoe in God’s whole.
Zoe signifies the qualitative relational function of the whole of God and the Trinity’s relational action in the trinitarian relational context of family by the trinitarian relational process of family love. Zoe involves the practice of this qualitative relational work made definitive in Jesus’ teaching, which is contrary to prevailing practices and norms (as implied above) and in conflict with quantitative outer-in presentations of a reduced human ontology (7:15-20). Moreover, authentic relational work is not about doing something (like performing ministry, 7:22), nor about beliefs, associations or intentions with “Lord” (7:21). This qualitative relational work is only about involvement in intimate relationship together to be whole, experienced first with the whole of God (“I don’t know you” to the reductionists, 7:23). This is the qualitative relational work of those being made whole in relationship together in God’s family, and thus who are able to live whole as their Father’s very own daughters and sons—those “who do the will of my Father” (7:21b).
As Jesus vulnerably embodied and intimately disclosed the whole of God, he made definitive what constitutes authenticity of God’s whole. In his closing communicative action to all his followers (then and now), he conjoined authenticity with accountability (7:24-27). We are accountable for all his words communicated to us in his summary discourse, which was not merely to inform us but only God’s terms to make whole our relationship together and its relational significance to be and live whole with others in his kingdom-family and to live and make whole with others in the surrounding contexts. The authenticity of how we live and practice emerges directly from the authenticity of who and what we are in our full identity (see contingency of the sixth beatitude, 5:8), which involves whose we are. And what validates authenticity is all his words and our relational involvement with him on those terms (“the foundation on rock”). This accountability is relationship-specific, and thus being accountable not for the self-orientation of what we do but rather for our vulnerable involvement in intimate relationship together—that is, accountable for this qualitative relational work of who and what we are in relationship together with the whole of God. To separate how we live and practice from the function of our full identity renders how we live and practice to reductionism—namely defined by only what we do, which does not go beyond the righteousness of the reductionists (5:20).
As Jesus unfolded the truth for relationship in his teaching, he clarified that: in reality, the function of self-autonomy is not free but only an ironic form of enslavement—namely because of the outer-in human ontology which defines it and determines its practice—which self-determination reinforces by being constrained to the limits of ontological simulation, and which self-justification then embeds even deeper in epistemological illusion. The events, situations, circumstances and relationships (“rain…wind,” 7:27) experienced in life and practice will expose their lack of qualitative substance to be whole, qualitative significance to live whole, and qualitative function to make whole. This is a reality check for those engaged in any form of reductionism (even inadvertently or naively), which extends our accountability with the clear need to ongoingly account for what defines us and what determines how we function—notably in what we specifically characterize as our Christian practice.
As the primer for discipleship, Jesus’ words to his followers made evident that discipleship is following him in relational progression to his Father for relationship together as his very own to be whole as family (cf. Jn 12:44,49-50). This clearly involves discipleship and frames discipleship formation in only his Father’s relational context and process. While there are more than a few variations of discipleship and approaches to discipleship formation, his closing metaphor of building a house warns us that they may only appear to be authentic to define his disciples and valid to determine discipleship. Jesus was unequivocal that the authenticity and validity foundational for all his followers is grounded in the inner-out functional practice of all his words. All his words, communicating our Father’s terms for relationship together, are what his Father also made imperative for us to “Listen to my Son.” Therefore, all his words communicated to us from our Father are not optional, negotiable, nor can his authentic followers be selective about which of his words to practice (cf. Lk 6:46). They cohere as the whole of God’s terms necessary for relationship together to be whole.
Even as he shared his summary discourse, Jesus vulnerably embodied the whole of God and intimately involved himself in relationships with others to live whole and to make whole. Many also listening to his words, other than his disciples, recognized his qualitative difference (exousia, denoting his right and authority to be and make whole) and his qualitative distinction from the apparent reductionists prevailing in their context (7:28-29). Yet, what those persons did with his words they listened to with interest was an issue of accountability conjoined with authenticity (cf. Eze 33:30-32, a pervasive practice in ancient times as well as modern). His followers are called beyond reductionism to be the authentic whole relationally congruent to him, and thus ongoingly accountable to vulnerably embody God’s whole and to be intimately involved with others for relationship together—to be whole, to live whole and to make whole, nothing less and no substitutes.
As Jesus vulnerably embodied and clearly made definitive in his teaching, how we live emerges from who and what we are. That is, more than a paradigmatic association, our practice directly emerges from what functionally (not ideally) defines who and what we are—shaping our identity by which we actually function, not who and what we merely profess to be.
It is an illusion for a person to think one makes choices/decisions about how to live completely on one’s own without any influence from others or the surrounding context. Jesus clearly challenges our consciousness in two ways conjointly: (1) to understand this influence and what actually shapes, determines, controls or even enslaves us; and (2), at the same time, he does not merely raise our consciousness level to just redeem/free us for independent choices from this influence, but, further and deeper than this, he reverses the dynamic (as signified by triangulation and reciprocating contextualization) for his followers from being reactors to that influence to responders who are involved with others and the surrounding context in love to be and make whole, thus responding for their well-being and wholeness (cf. to function of seventh beatitude, 5:9).
For this reversal of influence in how we live, Christian ethics needs to be sanctified in our life and practice. That is, Christian ethics needs to be relationally compatible with Jesus’ relational context and needs to function in relational congruence with his relational process in order to have the qualitative distinction from the common’s function of reductionism necessary to constitute the process of living in relationships to be whole on God’s terms. The process of Christian ethics as sanctified life and practice emerges only from the function of sanctified identity (with the contingency of the sixth beatitude, Mt 5:8)—the interaction of our full identity with the whole of God conjoined with our minority identity sent into the surrounding context. By its nature (dei) sanctified identity is intrusive of (not set apart from) the surrounding common’s context, thus the sanctified life and practice emerging from it will be intrusive of (while qualitatively distinct from) the pervading and prevailing common’s function in that context. And the practice of Christian ethics can be nothing less and no substitutes of this qualitatively distinct function in “the process of living in relationships to be whole only on God’s terms.”
If what and who we are, and thus how we are in the surrounding context, does not function “to be whole,” then whatever else we do—however well-intentioned with dedication, sacrifice or service—becomes a substitute of reductionism. Without the process of living to be whole, Christian ethics becomes mere ethics, thus essentially becomes some reductionist alternative about what to do, not who, what and how to be. This is the functional practice of Christian ethics when the underlying human ontology is less than whole—even if unintentionally or inadvertently shifted to focus merely on the right thing to do; and in this practice, who, what and how we are is diminished in qualitative significance, even if high in quantitative activity. This practice directly involves the issues of (1) the significance of the person we present to others, (2) the quality of what we communicate by our action, and (3) the level of relationship we engage in this practice.
The identity of Jesus’ followers and the whole of God’s family is rooted in his call to be whole. The functional embodiment of his call involves whole persons intimately involved in the relationships together necessary to be whole in likeness of the whole of God, the Trinity. This implies that Christian ethics, though enacted by persons, is not about what the individual person does, nor about a form of righteous self-autonomy; rather, by the nature of God’s whole, Christian ethics is always about persons together living as the whole of God’s family. Furthermore, this relational context and process goes beyond the conventional function of community and merely its collective practice. Without the functional whole to belong to and to be an ongoing part of, the individual person cannot be whole, and thus merely strains to do the right ethics and to fulfill one’s obligations, likely in self-determination and/or self-justification. Moreover, without the functional presence of the whole, these reductionist alternatives and substitutes are not exposed for us to understand their influence on us, such that we can further be made whole and reverse reductionism’s influence in order to make whole.
Therefore, by the nature of being relationally compatible with Jesus’ trinitarian relational context of family and relationally congruent with his trinitarian relational process of family love, Christian ethics is necessarily both sanctified and made whole. And the practice of Christian ethics must by this nature (dei, not opheilo) be nothing less and no substitutes of the process of living in relationships to be whole only on God’s terms.
The prevailing practice of relationships in the surrounding context (and often in churches) effectively functions “to be apart” from the whole in the counter-relational work of reductionism. The whole of God’s thematic relational work of grace intrudes on this human condition in loving response to make it whole, which Jesus vulnerably embodied and intimately involved his whole person for the relationships together necessary to be God’s whole. This embodied relational involvement is the process of living to be whole, and thus what Christian ethics is and what our engagement with culture in the surrounding contexts is for. Embodying Jesus’ “call to be whole” in sanctified life and practice is a function of sanctified identity, which conjoins his call with his commission “sent to be whole” in salvific life and practice to extend God’s family love to make whole the human condition.
The coherence of Jesus’ engagement with culture and practice of ethics naturally unfolds to extend our discussion to Jesus’ mission. This, of course, has been increasingly made evident already by the clarity of function of his sanctified identity in qualitative distinction of his sanctified life and practice in the surrounding contexts of the world—with ongoing triangulation and reciprocating contextualization.
Engaging culture and practicing Christian ethics are inseparable from participating in mission, and they converge together in the same relational dynamic. It is this relational dynamic which provides both coherence for these three areas and the significance necessary for their function to be constituted in God’s whole. This includes the convergence of sanctified life and practice to be whole and salvific life and practice to make whole, in which all three are involved by the nature of what this relational dynamic constitutes.
This relational dynamic is notable for participation in mission since, on the one hand, mission involvement is antecedent to involvement in culture and ethics in the apparent order of God’s priorities—which some Christians use to minimize or ignore culture and ethics. Yet, on the other hand, their involvements necessarily interact and cannot be separated without reducing the integrity of mission (namely with an incomplete Christology) and fragmenting its significance (notably with a truncated soteriology). Participating in mission cannot be done apart from a surrounding context nor apart from righteous involvement with persons in that context. Within the interaction of these three areas, mission in function often needs to emerge from engaging culture and practicing Christian ethics, though the process is not linear. There is one function, however, antecedent to mission, which this relational dynamic makes evident—and indeed imperative to respond to.
The incarnation evokes various images, but “intrusive” tends not to be one of them. Yet, Jesus embodied the intrusiveness of God in response to the human condition—which was disconcerting for the reductionists and their counter-relational practice—because “the Father sent me into the world” (Jn 3:17; 5:36; 10:36; 17:18a). The term for “sent” (apostello) denotes to send forth on a certain mission, signifying Jesus’ commission by his Father to fulfill his response to the human condition. Yet, “commission” should not be reduced by disembodying it from the relational dynamic of the Father with his Son. That is, the context for his commission should not be confused with “into the world,” which the current missional emphasis on contextualization tends to do. The world is certainly where his salvific work is to be fulfilled but its situations and circumstances do not determine the context for the significance of his commission.
In his formative family prayer (Jn 17), Jesus summarized his purpose to disclose (phaneroo, not merely apokalypto) his Father to us for intimate relationship together in the very likeness of their relationship in the Trinity (17:6,21-23,26). This relationship (defined as eternal life, 17:3), theirs and ours together, cannot function while under the influence of the surrounding context “of the world” (ek, preposition signifying out of which one is derived or belongs, 17:14,16); that is to say, relationship determined by our terms (even with good intentions) or by reductionist substitutes from the surrounding context. Jesus made evident the ongoing conflict with reductionism this relationship encounters and pointed to the relational dynamic necessary to live in the whole of relationship together, which Jesus vulnerably embodied in sanctified life and practice to be intimately involved with his followers for their sanctified life and practice (17:19).
In his prayer, Jesus commissioned (apostello) his followers for the specific mission “just as” (kathos, to show agreement between) his Father commissioned him: “As you sent me into the world, I send them into the world” (17:18, cf. 20:21). In Jesus’ paradigm for serving (Jn 12:26, discussed previously), the first priority of intimate involvement with him in relationship together is necessary over the work of serving, ministry and mission. For conventional paradigms for mission, sending workers out to the harvest fields becomes the urgent priority dominating our focus, thus disembodying the commission (however well meaning). Yet, as Jesus made definitive, the call to discipleship is the call to be whole, which, in order not be reduced, involves the need to be sanctified (holy) to distinguish the whole from the common’s function in the surrounding contexts of the world, including those notable harvest fields. This clearly qualifies “Christ’s commission” for mission and edifies prevailing perceptions of it by defining: what to send out, whom to send out, why and thus how to send out.
For the Son’s purpose and function from his Father to be transferred to his followers, the enactment of the commission has to be both sanctified and whole to be compatible (“just as,” kathos) with the Father-Son relationship and then the Father-Son-disciples relationship. Jesus’ prayer conjoins the call to be whole and his commission in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love (17:21-23). This clearly established the context of his commission in sanctified life and practice with the whole of God, not the context of “into the world.” When there is congruence in intimate relationship together and compatibility of function in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love, his followers together (the church as God’s new kinship family) are not statically “still in the world” (en, remaining in it, 17:11) but now dynamically sent “into the world” (eis, motion into) to function whole in likeness of the Father and the Son with the Spirit in further response to make whole the human condition. Therefore, his followers’ call to be whole is conjointly his followers sent to be whole. This constitutes the significance of what to send out and signifies the importance of whom to send out and defines more deeply why to send out (with the full soteriology), while providing the basis for how to function in his commission.
This relational dynamic for involvement in mission (as well as in culture and Christian ethics) is made further definitive in his formative family prayer. While the whole of life together in his relational context and process is uniquely intimate and sanctified, its practice cannot remain private nor individual. As he directly related the world (and life and practice in its surrounding contexts) to himself and then to his followers (in relationship together), Jesus prayed using the prepositions “in” (en, 17:11,13), “of” (ek, vv.14,16), “out of” (ek,v.15) and “into” (eis, v,18). Each preposition has its own significance which needs to be distinguished in any discussion on mission.
For Jesus to be “in the world” only described a general surrounding context in which he remained (en) temporarily. While en also signifies his followers remaining in the world, this position is governed by the preposition ek. That is, how Jesus functioned while remaining in the surrounding context was determined by the nature of his context of origin (relationship together in the Trinity), not by what prevailed in the surrounding context “of the world” (ek, out of which one is derived, belongs). Likewise, for his authentic followers, those also “not of the world,” ek involves a dynamic moving from being embedded to motion out from within the surrounding context, yet only in terms of the common’s function and practice, not going out of the common’s context. This dynamic of ek signifies going from being defined and determined by the prevailing culture (or situations and circumstances) in a surrounding context to movement out from within its influence—which certainly necessitates engaging culture.
Yet, the dynamic of ek is not a statement or resolve of self-determination “not to be of the world.” This dynamic more deeply involves a relational dynamic. Implied in the phrase “not of the world” is the relational process which involves movement not only away from the common’s influence but conjoint movement to the holy (Uncommon) and whole of God. This relational movement and involvement signifies both what his followers together are and whose they are, which necessitates triangulation and reciprocating contextualization to constitute them while remaining “in the world”—just as Jesus was “not of the world” and sanctified himself for his followers to practice “in the world” (17:19).
The practice of this relational involvement is always while “in the world,” which the above ek phrase does not include since it is limited to a shift only in purpose and function. In the same breath Jesus also prayed for his followers not to be removed “out of the world” (17:15). “Out of” is the same preposition ek, which is used differently in this phrase not for being embedded but for the matter of spatial location. The dynamic of this phrase signified the direction of their purpose and function to be relationally involved not away from but directly in the midst of the surrounding context and in the lives of persons in that context. Eliminating this sense of separation (spatially and relationally) also applies to not being removed from relational involvement even while practicing service, ministry and mission by maintaining subtle relational distance; this certainly includes righteous involvement with those persons in Christian ethics so that they can count on his followers to be of significance and their actions to have substance (cf. 17:21b,23b).
Clearly then, Jesus gave his followers no option but to remain (en) and to be relationally involved (not the separation of ek) in direct life and practice in the surrounding contexts of the world; and he distinctly qualified what (who) is to define them and determine how they function in those contexts (en is governed by the other ek, out from within its influence). While this relational dynamic is irreducible and nonnegotiable, there is always the functional alternative to remain “in the world” on ambiguous terms, which essentially become defined and determined by reductionist substitutes—notably in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. In this relational dynamic, grasping en and ek (out of) conjoined with the other use of ek (of) is a crucial distinction, the subtle difference of which is commonly blurred by reductionism. Being “not of the world” goes beyond having a static identity or self-determination status and deeply involves a functional framework imperative for the relational process defining the life and determining the practice of those who remain (en) in the surrounding context but emerge beyond (ek) the common’s function—indeed, beyond the reductionists, as Jesus made imperative (Mt 5:20).
This interrelated dynamic is the functional basis in his prayer for Jesus making imperative his call and his commission in conjoint function. The call to be whole (thus holy, sanctified) emerges in life and practice in the surrounding contexts of the world as sent to be whole. For this emergence to be unambiguously distinguished and thus clearly distinct from the common’s function in a surrounding context, it is necessary in function for the call to precede the commission because the commission alone is insufficient to fulfill the transfer of the Son’s purpose and function without embodying the qualitative relational significance to be whole constituted by his call.
The sanctified life and practice to be whole, the whole of God’s family in sanctified identity, constitutes his commission and signifies the basis for the authentic undertaking of their mission in salvific life and practice to make whole in the surrounding context. To be whole is the basis for his followers to be sent “into the world” (eis). As ek governs en with the “motion out from” the world’s influence necessary to constitute their functional significance to be whole, eis now governs “motion (back) into” the surrounding context for embodying their function to make whole to fulfill the transfer of the Son’s purpose and function from his Father to his family. Ek and eis are not in dialectical tension but operate ongoingly together in a reflexive interrelated process (with triangulation and reciprocating contextualization) for his followers to grow further and deeper in their conjoint call and commission. Therefore, Jesus made definitive that: salvific life and practice to make whole emerges from sanctified life and practice to be whole to cohere together with God’s thematic relational response to the human condition “in the world.”
How his followers live and practice in the surrounding context emerges from who and what they are; that is, what (or who) defines them determines how they function. The truth of this functional paradigm was embodied by Jesus throughout the incarnation: his full identity conjoined with his minority identity in sanctified life and practice, the conjoint function of which constituted his salvific relational work of grace for relationship together in God’s whole. As Jesus prayed to constitute his followers in this interrelated process: to be “in the world” and “not of the world,” salvific life and practice must by its nature (dei) function distinctly with the minority identity he embodied “in the world” in qualitative distinction “not of it”; this minority identity necessarily by its nature is functionally conjoined in sanctified life and practice with the full identity of who, what, and how his followers are in relationship together—thus relationally congruent and compatible with the whole of God and God’s action (17:16-19).
Yet, what defines his followers in the surrounding context and determines how they function is constantly being influenced, challenged, even coerced by that context to be assimilated into its culture. To the extent that its culture is incompatible with the whole of God and God’s action, this is the ongoing tension and conflict with reductionism—the common’s function and practice contrary to sanctified life and practice. This makes it essential for his followers to engage culture and to ongoingly practice triangulation and reciprocating contextualization. Reductionism’s subtle influence shifts human ontology from inner out to the outer in, thus redefining the person and how persons function—notably in relationships “to be apart” from the qualitative significance of the whole, God’s whole. Under such influence how his followers practice relationships together is compromised, and how they engage in mission is fragmented—namely without the qualitative relational significance to be whole and to make whole.
As Jesus prayed, it is imperative for his family’s public life and practice that eis (“into” as the dynamic with ek) is not to be confused with only being en, that is, merely to be in the same context, remain in the same space, even merely occupy ministries in surrounding situations and circumstances. En only statically describes where we remain, not what, who, why and how we are in that context. Eis, however, is not simply dynamic “movement into” a surrounding context, which is the reason “into the world” is not the context for his commission. The eis dynamic further signifies active engagement of other persons in deep relational involvement the depths of which is “just as” (kathos, indicating conformity) the Father sent his Son in the incarnation (17:18). This relational process of embodiment invokes God’s self-disclosure principle of nothing less and no substitutes. Thus, in the embodiment of his followers to live whole, anything less and any substitutes of this depth of involvement to make whole are reductions of his family’s conjoint call and commission. While the commission takes place “in the world,” it can only be enacted and fulfilled “into the world” as salvific life and practice (to make whole) emerging from sanctified life and practice (to be whole) distinctly not from the influence “of the world.” Anything other than relational involvement in this ek-eis process is less than whole—in other words, a substitute of reductionism.
The Father sent only the whole of God into the world. This good news is not merely the truth of a doctrine of salvation but definitive only as the experiential truth embodied by Jesus for relationship together in the whole of God’s family. Salvific life and practice is the relational outcome of what Jesus saved us both from and to (the full soteriology), the experience of which is only in relationship together with the embodied whole of Jesus. It is the qualitative relational significance of this whole embodied in Jesus by which he constitutes his followers together to be whole. On this basis, the Son sends only the whole of his family to be whole, live whole and make whole—along with his Spirit to complete God’s whole. Therefore, his family is not, and cannot be, sent on any mission in the surrounding context without function in their call to be whole; nor can their salvific life and practice make whole into (not merely in) that context without being holy in sanctified life and practice from the common’s influence and function.
If what and who we “send out” for mission is anything less than the whole, then how we function essentially misrepresents the gospel. Most importantly, to send out any substitute for God’s whole vitally reduces: the whole of God, what and whom he sent, and why he sent his Whole to be embodied “into the world.” For Jesus’ mission, and thus ours, any separation of his commission from his call fails to understand (and thus fully receive) the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole of God. This only fragments his church’s purpose and function as the whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity, and thus reduces the significance of the gospel—fragmenting it namely with an incomplete Christology and reducing it notably by a truncated soteriology. With a reductionist practice of mission, what can “the world believe” about “the God who sent” and what does this “let the world know” about “the God who loves for relationship together to be whole”?—for which Jesus asks his Father to embody his followers together in his formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-23).
This discussion will be extended in the chapters ahead, and
hopefully in mission discourse throughout the world.
The functional implications of culture, ethics and mission revolve around how we are going to live and practice. These three areas present vital issues which ongoingly question our faith, test our theology, and examine and appraise our discipleship. Yet, what Jesus vulnerably embodied throughout his life and practice—as he engaged culture, practiced ethics and fulfilled his mission—emerged only as a function of his full identity, in which he constitutes his followers to embody in likeness.
Culture, ethics and mission together persist to pursue us for a response to first and foremost: Who are we and what is our purpose in this world? Then they inquire out of necessity: How are we going to live? These are not philosophical questions for cognitive understanding but serve as both theological and social discourse for what we are accountable: to be (eimi, Mt 5:48) more deeply in full identity, to become (ginomai, Mt 5:45) further in minority identity, and thus to function in significantly with our whole person together with the whole of God (in the intimate process of triangulation, Mt 6:33) and to practice living whole without reduction in the world to make whole (with the experiential relational process of reciprocating contextualization, Mt 7:12).
Since the Christian faith is not a mere system of belief but a dynamic process of relationship with the vulnerably present and intimately involved whole of God, faith cannot be practiced in a spiritual vacuum—namely private and individual. Since Christian theology is about this self-disclosing God, notably embodied in the whole of Jesus, theology is the relational dynamic of the vulnerable function of the Trinity only for relationship together, and thus cannot be constrained to doctrine or reduced to disembodied theological perspectives and principles. Conjointly, since authentic discipleship is this intimate relationship with the whole of Jesus, the practice of discipleship cannot be engaged in social isolation, nor embodied by only the individual, but only in relationship together “in the world.” Culture, ethics and mission interact to formulate the issues necessary to be responded to by the ongoing function of our faith, our theology and our discipleship in order to be whole, live whole and make whole—God’s whole for relationship together on God’s terms.
These issues needing our response in the surrounding contexts involve human ontology and the social design of humanity, whose created nature necessitate the response from the convergence of our sanctified life and practice (to be whole) and our salvific life and practice (to make whole). In other words, for us to be involved in the surrounding contexts of the world and to be responsive to others in those contexts, there is the necessity of a clear qualitative distinction in the function of our identity, from which emerges practice having relational significance for the whole of God and relational substance for others to experience also in relationship together (as Jesus prayed in Jn 17:20-23). Consequently, these issues from culture, ethics and mission must be responded to while in the process of addressing ongoingly two paramount issues:
These two paramount issues, of course, are in unceasing interaction, which reflects the ongoing tension-conflict between reductionism and God’s whole. How we will live and practice always emerges from who and what we are in function. The critical issue centers on what (or who) will define our identity and, in turn, determine our practice. Thus, the first paramount issue involves the need to examine: our working Christology (incomplete or complete) and practicing soteriology (truncated or full); the authenticity of our discipleship based on his terms in the Sermon on the Mount, notably our relational involvement with our Father; thus the issues of the significance of the person we present, the integrity and quality of our communication, and the level of relational involvement we have. The second paramount issue involves the need to examine: our working human ontology (outer in or inner out) for both the person and relationships together, and our specific functional purpose in the created social design of humanity; thus the issues of what defines our person functionally (not ideally) and then determines how we actually function in relationships with others—both in his kingdom-family and in the surrounding context.
The human redefining of God’s whole has been problematic and reflects the human condition since the primordial garden. God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, however, also has been subject historically to human shaping. The patriarchs were clear examples of this. They demonstrated the use of incongruent means to advance the covenant by their human shaping, thus displaying an ambiguous participation in culture, practicing contradictory ethics and self-determining their “mission.” While staying in Egypt, for his own safety and prosperity, Abraham instructed Sarah to lie to the Egyptians, saying she was his sister. This led to her becoming part of Pharaoh’s harem as his wife (Gen 12:10-16). To protect himself from being killed, Isaac acted similarly during their sojourn in Gerar by lying about Rebekah, saying she was his sister; Abimelech correctly admonished him for exposing his wife, Rebekah, to abuse (Gen 26:1-11). Later, Jacob used Esau’s hunger as leverage for a calculating acquisition of his birthright (Gen 25:29-34). Then, Jacob schemed to deceive Isaac into conferring his blessing (meant for Esau) onto Jacob (Gen 27:1-29).
What was common in their human shaping is: first, the reduction of the human ontology for the person and for relationships making the covenant process amenable to human shaping, and, then, the relational consequences such efforts of self-autonomy and self-determination have to fragment the relationships necessary to be whole, and thus to diminish the relational significance of the whole—the whole of God, whose relational work of grace is not amenable to human shaping. God’s terms for covenant relationship together were yet to be fully disclosed to the patriarchs, which apparently allowed the latitude for this human shaping of God’s thematic relational response to make whole in covenant relationship together. In addition to God’s terms for relationship given in the law, those terms have been clearly made definitive by Jesus in both his teaching and in his vulnerably embodied life and practice, thus irreducible by anything less and any substitutes, as well as nonnegotiable to our terms for human shaping. This always brings us back to the issue of what (who) will define our identity and, in turn, determine our practice.
The reality is that reductionism is always positioned against the presence of the whole. While this tension-conflict can be an overt struggle, the genius of its promoter is the subtle counter-relational work operating in ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of the whole. A major sign of reductionism’s influence is when our primary focus is on the quantitative aspects of human function for the person and relationships, and then on those aspects of church practice and all related service, ministry and mission. With this focus, Christian life and practice easily get embedded in the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of reductionist substitutes, evidenced in Jesus’ rebuke to the churches at Ephesus, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea (Rev 2 & 3, to be discussed in the next chapter).
Our willingness to address these interrelated issues will indicate how seriously we take the sin of reductionism. Our vulnerable involvement in the ek-eis process constitutive of Jesus’ call and commission will indicate our submission to our Father to change—that is, to be changed to be made whole, thus to live whole and to make whole, and be ongoingly defined and determined by nothing less and no substitutes.
 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture 50th-anniversary ed. (N.Y.: Harper San Francisco, 2001).
 See, for example, Glen H. Stassen, D.M. Yeager, John Howard Yoder, Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), and also Gordon Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, (Australia: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 93-110.
 For an overview of this historical development, see Bruce D. Chilton, “Judaism and the New Testament” in Daniel G. Reid, ed. The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 603-616.
 For a discussion on teleological and deontological reasoning, see Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003), 119-122.
 Embodiment and “incarnational” are terms gaining wider usage in recent years—for example, incarnational discipleship, ethics, ministry, etc. Yet, these tend not to be understood as a function of the whole person presented in the relational context and process engaging intimate involvement in relationship together—namely in relational compatibility and congruence with the incarnation of Jesus embodying the whole of God for relationship together. Jesus was more than incarnational and embodied more than embodiment. In other words, mere use of a term does not make practice more functionally significant.
©2008 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.