In contrast with the popular idea of Jesus as supernatural, I see him as a thoroughly human person who confronted our common temptations in their most gigantic proportions and yet was able to overcome, thus becoming a man for all time.
Here I present Jesus not as a religious superman, endowed with powers unavailable to us all, but as one who dared embrace our common potential for becoming sons of God. Jesus' personal life and teachings are reviewed and applied to life today.
to those confronting Jesus' humanity
... and their own.
I write about Jesus primarily for myself. From the time of my earliest memories he has been a dominant figure in my life, both in my conscious thinking and in the fabric of the communities in which I have lived. I have at various times idolized, imitated, emulated, believed in, worshipped, tried to follow, and tried to forget this uncommon man. I return here to try to make sense of him in the light of reason, the biblical information available, and 40 years of my own experience. How can I understand this amazing man who has so influenced my life as well as the course of human history?
When I first began this study years ago, I thought I would be objective and impartial. I know better now that I have finished. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a modern pioneer in sense-making about Jesus, was right: "What each man sees (in Jesus) is what he brings eyes to see, and the portrait he paints is commonly so highly colored by subjective factors that it is more a revelation of himself than of Jesus."
Yes, of course. With due credit to my original intentions, I know that this is a book about my pilgrimage as projected onto Jesus. But in reality, what else can we do?
Traditionally we who have believed in Jesus at all have taken the easy route of classifying him as supernatural, essentially different from the rest of mankind. The "only son of God" we have called him. Once distinguished in this way, the phenomenon of his life and influence make a certain sense. Quite reasonably, the everlasting off-spring of the Omnipotent could and can do unbelievable things. I settled for this explanation for many years.
It required of me, however, a greater suspension of reason than I finally became willing to make. Supernatural, it dawned on me, is but another name for magic. Magic for fun is one thing, but taken seriously it places incredible demands on human integrity. Thinking of Jesus as superman required such a belief in magic. Even though the temporary results were certainly rewarding, I found the extended consequences to be disastrous. Magic eventually shatters on the rocks of reality or leaves the believer in an inwardly shattered condition.
Such a belief also removed Jesus from any real place as an example for my personal life. I might idolize a superhuman savior of the world, but serious efforts to emulate one with special favors and powers not given to me seemed grossly unreasonable. Without having his superhuman powers, how could I possibly become more than a cheap imitation. I did try for a long time, but of course without much success.
Furthermore, the popular idea that "he did it all for me" never seemed to quite work out that way in real life. Temporarily such a belief can obviously have profound consequences. Maintaining it, however, in the real world of income taxes, sex, and death, proved to be an unconquerable challenge for me--and for many other true believers who let me see behind their public images of perpetual peace. I finally concluded that I had been wrong, that he had done it before me, but not for me, that his walking the "lonesome valley" could not finally substitute for my own struggle with the apparently common temptations of all mankind.
Out of these experiences I proceeded to study the life of Jesus and to paint my own projected portrait. The positions I have reached at this time--and the premises on which this book is based--are these: first, I conclude that Jesus was a thoroughly human person who faced our common temptations in their most gigantic proportions, yet was finally able to resist them. In so doing he became a son of God, an option which I believe is open to us all. His uniqueness for me is not in the manner of his birth or in any supernatural powers he possessed, but rather in the victory symbolized by what he became. He overcame (John 16:33)! That he did opens the door to the possibility that we can also.
I think that Jesus, like all men, was engaged in the universal quest for the good life. He sought to extricate himself from common prisons which deny our freedom and to find personal fulfillment, happiness, and completion. His goal was nothing short of knowing God, "whom to know," he realized, "is life eternal" (John 17:2). Unlike most of us, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the quest, courageously burning his bridges behind him. He never kept one foot on home base. With earthly abandon he dared seek the heavenly goal, unity with God.
I do not see him now as a superhuman miraculously placed on the earth by an external God, inherently possessing powers unavailable to us other mortals. Who would reasonably want to follow such a sub-god, knowing the cards were stacked against him to begin with? His uniqueness for me lies in what he did with what we all have, not in what he began with. He was a path-finder who could say, "Come, follow me." "Because I live, ye shall live also." His salvation is an example, not a substitute for our own. We too must work out our own salvation, as Paul said, "with fear and trembling." Yet we can find direction and inspiration from this wondrous pilgrim who proceeded us.
Obviously many of his followers, then and now, thought he possessed magical powers. Many of his feats are easily viewed in a miraculous way. We commonly classify as miracle that which we do not understand. Even so, I assume that his unusual deeds were all within the realm of the natural rather than the supernatural--that is, mysterious but not magic. Although we lack sufficient information to explain many of them, such as walking on water or turning water to wine, I assume that if all the facts were available, each such feat would be subject to explanation within the laws of nature. Otherwise, I must see him as supernatural and hence removed as a model for us natural humans.
Probably the New Testament contains secondary elaborations which disciples commonly attach to their leader after he is gone. Because we have no way of separating what actually happened from any exaggerated recollections of the biblical writers, I accept each report at face value assuming that some central event occurred, even if it was ignored or reported differently by other authors. Certainly there are both casual and significant contradictions between the information in the four gospels. Also there is ample evidence of additions, deletions, and alterations by later copyists and editors.
Even so, I take the information as presented, assuming that each writer was honestly reporting his own version as he understood or was told about it. For example, I accept the raising of Lazarus as an actual event, even though John is the only writer to report it. This does not mean, however, that I take all explanations at face value. In this example I accept the event of Lazarus coming from the grave, but not the assumption of the observers that he was actually dead. I assume that some more natural explanation could be made if we had all the information. Perhaps Jesus and his close friend Lazarus staged the happening as a teaching event pointing to the reality of spiritual resurrection.
Maybe they had practiced self-hypnotic trances which left the appearance of death, needing the other to bring one out of the trance. This could explain Jesus' unreasonable delay in coming, even after Mary and Martha had sent for him. Perhaps Jesus was simply being honest in telling his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may wake him out of sleep"(John 11:11).
Whatever the explanation, I do not accept that Lazarus was truly dead. To do so would require that Jesus have supernatural powers and so render him an unreasonable human example. I make these same assumptions with each apparently miraculous event.
This does not mean, however, that I would diminish the personal man and elevate his verbal messages as being most important. His primary significance for me does not lie in his teachings, as insightful and universal as many of them appear to be, but in the phenomenon of his life, the clarity of the example he set in pursuit of our common goal.
He so diligently followed the universal human dream that his life becomes a clear mirror on which we less-devoted followers can easily project our own deep fantasies. We may see ourselves in him. Our own destinies are written in the script of his life. We may see where we are coming from and where we are headed, all in the relative safety of this 2000 year old reflector.
His teachings themselves are a hodgepodge of ancient wisdom, revealed unclearly for the most part, cloaked in stories, presented in paradoxes. No logical thinker can succinctly summarize his theology or neatly fit him in available philosophical boxes. Although the elements of a profound philosophy of life are scattered throughout his recorded words, either he never systematized his thought, or his recorders failed to preserve it. If we had only his teachings, devoid of the example of his life, we would have scant guidance. I doubt that his verbal messages would have survived the first century, were it not for the overpowering image of his personal life.
Before confronting Jesus' life directly it seems necessary to have some perspective on the human pilgrimage in general. In the first chapter I amplify my understanding of our common condition and problem, totally apart from the life of Jesus. Perhaps I belabor the point, extending my explanation further than a reader will prefer. If so, I suggest skipping to the second chapter.
There, I compare the experiences of Jesus with my perspective of our common quest. This first part of the book is, of course, theoretical. Then in the latter half, I try to be as practical as possible, relating Jesus' life to our own, drawing conclusions and making applications for living today.
While I do not claim that my portrait is the right one, it is, I believe, a faithful projection onto the available evidence. Although it is an uncommon view, I think it fits acceptably with New Testament information about Jesus and a wealth of current knowledge concerning our common pilgrimage to the good life.
It makes sense for me. Perhaps it will for you. If not, I trust that even its strangeness may be useful as you paint your own portrait of this enigmatic Jew who is, in my opinion, a man for all time.
The Human Pilgrimage
What is the pilgrimage of everyman? The universal quest? What is it that we all seek? And how do we commonly go astray? What is the temptation which Satan holds before every one?
Generalizing is always dangerous, especially in regard to people. Apparent exceptions continually arise. However, there do appear to be certain general truths about the human situation. One can at least observe his own life, the lives of those in his acquaintance, and read about the lives of others. From this limited information he can theorize about mankind as a whole, projecting his own conclusions on the human situation in general.
From what I have observed in my experience and in the lives of others, and from what I have read, the universal quest is for good life, most commonly called happiness, or peace of mind. In religion it is called heaven or the kingdom of God. In this chapter I outline the human pilgrimage as I have discovered it to be.
Although the good life is apparently open to us only through the door of our own humanity, we inevitably seek a shortcut through the door of godhood. The common human temptation seems to be to escape humanity by becoming a god--that is, to give up personhood in favor of a simulated godhood. In Genesis the serpent confronts Adam and Eve with this lie, "Ye shall be as gods" (3:5). And so he seems to confront every other Adam and Eve. The universal temptation is, I believe, to become a god, to give up being human and pretend to be godly.
But what does this mean? How can a man pretend to be a god? We do so by assuming the attributes of godhood, by taking on ourselves qualities of a god. We abandon finitude, the true human condition, in favor of an assumed infinite stance. Godhood is primarily characterized by three attributes: omnipotence, omniscience, and immortality--magical powers, ultimate knowledge, and perpetual existence. A man succumbs to the temptation to godhood when he assumes any or all of these attributes--that is, when he begins to live as though he knows what is ultimately good or evil, or as though he will live forever.
These falsely assumed qualities are contrary to the human condition, which is to have limited power (be relatively weak), to have partial knowledge (be somewhat ignorant), and to be mortal (in the process of dying). In contrast to the omnipotence, omniscience, and immortality of a god, we humans are vulnerable, limited, and finite.
When man escapes his humanity by becoming a false god--false because, even though he comes to exist in a godly way, he does not actually become a god--he loses access to human capacities in varying degrees. Instead, for example, of remaining sensitive and emotional, thoughtful and responsive, he becomes insensitive and cold-hearted, unthinking and rigid. He develops traits and patterns, becoming automatic and predictable instead of flexible and responsive. He trades human freedom for godlike consistency.
As his degree of attempted escape increases, he becomes neurotic, emotionally disturbed, and finally psychotic. He loses spirit, ceasing to exist as a spirited human being. He fails to find the happiness he seeks. If he continues, hell is his destination.
In his quest for the good life, man must reverse course. He must resign from the impossible challenge of becoming a god. He must resist Satan's temptation, and instead, devote himself fully to becoming himself. Rather than pretending to be a god, he must become a man. The mystery of salvation lies in the unreasonable fact that only by becoming himself can man come to know Him, "whom to know is life eternal."
This pilgrimage of everyman may be sub-divided into four phases or steps: the set-up, the fall, repentance, and commitment. The first two are apparently universal. The latter two are reserved for those few individuals who pursue the good life to its ultimate.
Back to Jesus. I believe that the widespread appeal and significance of Jesus lies in the fact that he faced, struggled with, and overcame this apparently universal temptation to godhood. Somehow, perhaps on an unconscious level, we recognize
a common identification with this man from Nazareth. We perceive his open, honest involvement with the primary issues of life which we all face. His teachings ring a bell for us. Somehow we know that what he said is the truth. Even though we do not like it, wish it were not so, and resist following, somehow we realize he was right. Our own deeper awareness confirms his words and lets us know that we too must follow him in our own pilgrimage for heaven.
Before observing Jesus' movements in our common course, let us examine in more detail the four steps in the process:
The challenge facing every newborn child is to become a fully human person, activating his complete potential for humanity, becoming all that he is created capable of being. The common temptation is to avoid the challenges of the human pilgrimage by assuming a false godhood instead. Rather than becoming a person, every child is tempted to act like a god. The temptation, which is apparently inherent in the human situation, is fostered by two factors: the godlike example of adults, and the various set-ups projected by parents, family, and society, onto each child.
The first factor, the godlike example, has two elements. The size, strength, and powers of parents in comparison to a child, imply godhood. From an infant's viewpoint, parents appear as literal gods. They hold powers of life and death through the giving and withholding of food, punishment, and love. Secondly, many adults play on their natural advantages to convey an even greater sense of godhood to the child. For example, demanding unquestioning allegiance, pretending to have all the answers, and acting perfect, each enhance the parental image of godhood. Since a child lacks adequate resources to defeat these gods which surround him, he is logically tempted to become like them. "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em."
The second major factor in the temptation to godhood is even more devious than the first. It is the set-up. The typical child born into a family setting arrives in a set-up--that is, a pre-existing situation involving expectations which may be completely unrelated to him as a person. His parents or parent figures, siblings, relatives, and community are all likely to have goals for him to meet, standards which may or may not fit his own individual bent or capabilities. Parents have dreams of what he will be. Brothers and sisters have their own designs, positive and negative. Relatives have projected hopes. The community has its rules and laws which the child will be expected to abide by.
These images of what he should be are held before him in many ways--positively, through reward, encouragement, and support; negatively, through criticism, punishment, and rejection. For example, a common set-up for a first son is that he will be a model child, a good-boy. He will be all that mother and daddy have failed to become. He will be an ideal representative to carry on the family name, perhaps even the family business or profession.
This parental image (not limited to first children) is often unconscious. It may be projected openly through words: "Be a good boy; don't cry." "Be good and eat your food." "Good boys mind their parents." Or it may be presented non-verbally through rewards and punishment. Junior may be complimented, approved and loved when he lives up to the good-boy image, or disapproved and rejected when he fails. Children learn early to read the smiles and frowns of parents. Later confirmations and punishments reinforce the projected image of "the right way to be."
After several children, parents may project a different image. A last child is commonly treated as the baby of the family. Often he is indulged more freely, given fewer expectations, and allowed to get away with more. Unwittingly, he is invited to be a baby.
Set-ups may be negative as well as positive. Sometimes parents set-up a child as being bad. "Oh, you're just like your Uncle Fred. He never did amount to much." "You're a bad boy. You are always getting into trouble." Although parents may not intend these statements as directives, children easily take them literally.
Other examples include the image of a dumb child ("You are stupid."); a smart girl ("You are intelligent like your aunt."); an ugly child ("Well, at least she has brains,"); a funny kid ("Let me tell you the latest cute trick."); an actor ("Show them what you can do.").
Aside from these images, conscious and unconscious, the typical family structure has other innate forms of set-up, evolving from the triangle of mother-father-child. Although these more subtle expectations are seldom conscious, they are often more powerful than the first. Into the primary, established relationship between mother and father, each child comes as a third party, subject to all the pressures and forces inherent in any triangular love affair.
Initially the mother-child relationship is primary. The child replaces father, temporarily, as the principal concern of the mother. As mother nourishes and cares for the child, the child naturally is attracted and becomes attached to her. Depending on the maturity of the parents, various kinds of set-ups develop. Mother may lavish her affection on the child, using him to exclude the father. Father may become jealous and competitive with the child for his wife's attention. If the child perceives himself as winning in this three-sided love affair, he faces the threat of father's power. Freud wrote extensively of this complex relationship which he described as the Oedipal situation with its castration fears.
Unfortunately the cards are stacked against the child. Even though he appears to win mother temporarily, he is likely to face other set-ups in time. As he grows, he begins to need father also. Mothers give life, but fathers guide and sustain it. Also, he may discover that the mother he thought he had (owned) was only on temporary loan from the father, who really had her all along. This accentuates competitive and jealousy factors in the set-up. Without choice, training, or equipment, the child is often thrust into the competitive arena, jockeying for mother's love, yet needing father's guidance. On the one hand, he wants to eliminate father so he can have mother all to himself. On the other hand, he needs father too.
If the father is a strong person, the battle can be waged openly between worthy competitors. A strong father also provides better sustenance and guidance as the child's identification shifts to him. A weak or absent father, on the other hand, exaggerates the set-up. The child wins the mother too easily and manipulates the father, when he needs his direction.
The double-bind of this typical family situation injects innumerable set-ups for the growing child. Unwittingly he becomes a threatened competitor, even without choice. Whatever the particular set-ups may be in any given family, the existence of set-ups is apparently universal. Each child arrives in a world which projects expectations of what he should be and ought not to be. Seldom are these images based on what he actually is. Most children seem to be set-up to become what they are not, instead of what they are.
With the parental example of apparent godhood, plus the various set-ups, the common temptation is to fall for it--to attempt to become what one is expected to be, rather than what he is. Joining the family of gods and accepting the projected expectations is usually deemed easier than facing the challenges of becoming human. When a child falls for these temptations, he sets forth to become what he is not, rather than what he potentially is. The challenges of acting like a parent, measuring up to expectations, including dealing with the Oedipal situation, easily call for godlike qualities.
Although the temptation is seldom seen in the dramatic terms of the Bible, namely, "Ye shall be as gods," any attempt to become other than human is a godly effort. One is playing god with his life when he tries to become anything except what he is. Whether the move is judged as positive or negative--that is, whether one tries to be good or bad, super-human or sub-human, he is being as god. He moves from the level plain of humanity to the objective realm of godhood.
Such a move is a fall, in spiritual terms. When one falls for the set-ups, he attempts to be godly rather than human. Whether he falls for becoming an angel or a devil, false godhood is the result.
As previously noted, three primary attributes of godhood are omnipotence, omniscience, and immortality. To the degree that one falls for the temptation, he assumes inhuman powers, more knowledge than is humanly possible, or a nonhuman term of existence.
Common examples of omnipotence are the belief that one can do whatever he wants to if he tries hard enough; that one has the right to have other people, such as a child, spouse, or friend; that one has the right to direct the lives of others; or that one can have a god.
Omniscience is reflected in the belief that one knows what is right and wrong (Biblically represented as eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Immortality is shown in presumptions about the length of life. For example, when one believes he will exist forever, contrary to the apparent human situation, he has fallen for this godly attribute. Even the presumptuous statement, "See you later," implies a control of time and may reflect notions of immortal existence.
Positions of false godhood may be achieved and maintained through four common avenues: dependency, fame, magic, and sacrifice. One falls for the set-ups through participating in any of these endeavors.
Dependency is the first route to godhood. Independence is the true human condition following birth. Once the umbilical cord is cut, a child is a separate one, apart and on his own. Certainly he may be temporarily sustained by nourishment and protection from his parents, yet he is an independent individual. The choice to live or die is committed finally to him alone. He is responsible for himself. Others may feed and care for him but they cannot make ultimate decisions which are inherent in his being an independent person. Final responsibility belongs only to him.
To this faith-demanding situation Satan comes, tempting one to escape through dependence. If one pretends to have a god to lean on, then he achieves a false godhood through acting out his illusion. Although his god is external, the critical issue is possession. He has his god. The god may have the power, but he has him. The owner of a god is naturally more powerful than the god he owns.
If one can create and maintain a situation of apparent dependency in contradiction to the fact of his independence, he thereby achieves the illusion of omnipotence. Whether the object of his dependency is a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, or cosmic magician is not the issue. The illusion of possession and dependence establishes his false godhood.
Through the act of disclaiming personal responsibility, pretending to be dependent, one presumes he has someone to take care of him. Parents become the most likely original candidates for this dubious honor. A child may imagine them as gods, and cast the responsibility for his life on them. Even after he grows, he may still perceive himself as a child with them, thereby maintaining his displaced independence.
Later, one's brothers or sisters, other family members, friends, teachers, preachers, or spouse may be installed as the god or goddess on which dependence is placed. The community itself may be elevated as the repository of power. Thereafter, a dependent one throws himself on society, expecting to be taken care of.
Moving from the earthly family and father, the projection may be continued to a cosmic father, a god "up there." A religious person may imagine a heavenly father, on whom he can depend to care for him. The dependence which began with his parents is continued with his god.
The critical factor remains the secondary godhood achieved through having a god. Neither the nature of the god, be he earthly or heavenly, nor one's conscious perception of the projection, alter the fact. One may be quite unaware of the false godhood he achieves through existing in a dependent fashion. Even so, this common illusion remains the most basic avenue to escape the responsibilities and challenges of being human. Dependency is cloaked godhood.
Fame is a second avenue to false godhood. If one can succeed in getting others to elevate him above the plane of mere mortals, then he may easily conclude that he deserves the position. If they believe he is something special, perhaps they are right. Since Gods receive the praise, admiration, or worship of humans, one who can manipulate these responses must also be godly!
For example, if one can succeed in making others like him, that is, elevate him to a place of status in their esteem, then he may easily conclude that he deserves it. If they think so highly of him, he thinks, surely he must be a high person, one of great worth and value.
Positive fame is commonly achieved through two means: entertainment and service. One may secure the approval of others by a pleasing performance or deeds of service. A child may gain his mother's favor by using the potty or doing things to help her, such as picking up his toys, washing his hands, or staying out of trouble. "Aren't I cute," and, "I'm here to help you," are common themes in this avenue to godhood.
One may achieve fame with others by doing "what they want," instead of, "what I want." This may include thinking what they want me to think, feeling what they want me to feel, saying what they want me to say, dressing as they wish, and acting according to their desires.
Through these procedures one builds a reputation or image. He establishes himself falsely in the eyes of others, achieving fame, not for what he is, but for appearing to be what they want him to be. "Johnny is a good boy" implies that he is more than just a boy. He is a special child, one better than others. One can achieve a sense of false godhood through becoming special to others.
Fame comes in two varieties: positive and negative, popularity and notoriety, approval and disapproval. One may be elevated as an angel or devil. Though positive fame is more socially acceptable, negative attention can achieve the same goal. False godhood is established through the fact of the attention, not through its nature. A reputation for being bad is still a reputation, a type of fame. Failing to gain fame by popularity, one may secure negative attention by acting contrary to the wishes of parents and others. In later life he may maintain notoriety by acting in unsocial or illegal ways. "Better a bad reputation than no reputation at all" is the theme in this escape to godhood.
Magic is a third familiar avenue to false godhood. Although humans must function with limited degrees of personal power, one may escape into an imaginary state of godhood through presuming either possession of, or access to, supernatural powers. Since omnipotence is one attribute of God, one may assume various degrees of godhood through belief and participation in magical powers through either direct or indirect means.
Direct magic is evidenced in the belief that one personally has powers beyond those given to ordinary humans. Such belief may be conscious or unconscious. The critical issue is existing as though one possesses magical abilities. If, for example, a child can command immediate response from his parents by a single cry, he may conclude that his voice has magical powers. If a woman can manage her husband with her tears, she may assume that she has magical abilities. The issue is living as though one possesses supernatural powers, that is, as though by crying one could manage his world. Whether or not the conclusion is consciously drawn is incidental to the assumed fact.
Other examples of the belief in direct magical powers vary from the extreme notion that one can suspend the laws of nature to suit his own whims, to the more common belief that one can help or hurt other people by making them feel good or bad.
The wish to believe in magic is apparently so widespread that countless people will follow those who pretend to possess supernatural powers, thereby catering to and tending to confirm the illusion.
Degrees of assumed omnipotence may be indirectly achieved through the projection of magical powers onto objects or images in the external world. Although an individual may thereafter deny being magical himself, he lives as though he has direct access to supernatural powers which are in some way subject to his influence or direction.
Indirect magic can be viewed in two forms: secular and religious. Outside organized religion the practice is evidenced in various superstitions, such as a belief in Fate, Lady Luck, fortune tellers, astrology, and magical objects. The premise is: Although I am not magic myself, I have access to supernatural powers. For example, one may presume to manage Lady Luck by keeping a rabbit's foot, not walking under ladders, and avoiding black cats. Denying personal power to foretell the future, one may presume indirect power through his fortune teller or horoscope.
A more advanced form of indirect, secular magic lies in the projection or belief that superhuman powers exist in things or persons, subject to one's control or possession. For example, a common such belief is that wealth can bring happiness. Wealth is assumed to be a secular rabbit's foot, with the superhuman power to make one happy.
A certain person, such as a parent, sweetheart, or public figure may be imbued with magical powers. Thereafter one may wield his indirect magic through the manipulation or possession of the magical person. For example, a favored parent may be granted magical powers. "If my mother were here she could make it right." Then one could go home to mother to be made happy again. Often a lover is presumed to have the magical power to bring happiness. Then an individual seeks to manage the supernatural ability through efforts to manipulate or possess the loved one.
The religious form of indirect magic is seen in the presumed existence of a super-magician called god. This anthropomorphic projection of supernatural powers is assumed to be subject to man's control or influence. Although a man may not think he is magical himself, he may believe he has access to a cosmic magician. Through prayer, rituals, or good behavior, he thinks he can secure the favor and services of his god.
Whether magic is pursued directly or indirectly, in secular or religious form, the result is the same. One achieves a degree of false godhood through wielding any supernatural powers. The critical issue is not a conscious belief in magic, but living as though one has access to the control of omnipotent powers. Both the churchman, hoping to obtain perpetual bliss beyond the grave by a simple decision for Christ, and the businessman seeking happiness from his wealth, are participating in the same type of magical thinking.
Sacrifice is a fourth avenue to the illusion of godhood. Children commonly learn to wield the powers of their parents by sacrificing various aspects of themselves. Very early an infant may discover the power of sacrificing his right to cry or to defecate in diapers. By giving up small pleasures he can often exert great influence over the powerful figures which surround him.
Later, the sacrifice of certain desired activities, such as playing in the mud or going naked, may give him control over mother's wrath and favor. Acquiring the use of language, he may discover that sacrificing expression of certain words brings desired effects. The sacrifice of other pleasurable deeds in favor of "good" behavior can result in additional power.
Social and religious organizations often teach the value of sacrifice in achieving power in the club or church. With such training, one easily projects his experience on his external gods, assuming that they too will be pleased by his sacrifices. If it worked with daddy, why not try it with god?
Many religions teach that the gods approve of sacrifices, such as, food, objects, animals, or money. Others require personal sacrifice of one's time, energy, or even himself. Self-negation is often considered a virtue. Presumably the gods are pleased by man's denying himself the satisfaction of certain physical appetites such as hunger or sex. Although seldom overtly taught, a common religious notion makes the curtailment of any physical pleasure an act which pleases god. Even inflicting bodily punishment has been considered virtuous.
On a deeper level various degrees of spiritual suicide have been elevated as pleasing to god. Emotional denial, that is, the suppression of certain human feelings, such as, anger or jealousy is often approved. Partial mental suicide is commonly encouraged, especially through avoiding intellectual doubt of church doctrines. Any fantasy on such subjects as sex is sometimes considered a sin. The preposterous idea persists even today that if man could somehow succeed in destroying himself for God, God would be pleased. "Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?," a religious song asks. "Dying for God" would seem to be the ultimate human virtue.
Although the idea is that sacrifice on its many levels pleases God, the subtle result of such activities is most often the false godhood of the sacrificing one. Self-righteousness is seldom so evident as in churchmen who have "given up the most for God."
The third phase of the human quest is resigning from the challenges of the set-ups, ceasing to fall for the temptation to play god, and turning to another way of life. One finally realizes that he can never succeed in becoming God. He cannot fulfill the expectations projected on him.
One reaches, as it were, the end of his rope, saying, in effect, "I give up. Nothing works. I relinquish my omniscience. I really don't know anything for sure. I turn from my omnipotence. I am not magic. I resign from my immortality. I know I am dying."
He abandons dependency, ceasing to lean on parents, family, friends, or anthropomorphic gods. The challenges of achieving fame, approval, or the worship and adoration of others through either entertainment or service are abandoned. Magic, either in belief or practice, is given up. Omnipotent notions of being better or worse, more powerful or weaker than any other person, are laid aside. All fanciful ideas of being a favored person of any human or god are relinquished. Egotistical belief in being a special self is given up. One literally dies to himself--that is, he lets the self he has become die.
Self-sacrifice is stopped. One ceases efforts to appease or please the gods by sacrificial endeavors, either of his possessions, abilities, capacities, or life.
The entire life-absorbing scheme to become God is abandoned. In this third phase of the human pilgrimage one resigns from all false godhood. He faces the potential despair of being only human. He repents, changing his direction in life.
After the abortive effort to become a god, one who repents from his old ways, resigning from tempting set-ups, faces the delightful challenges of becoming fully human. He opens the door to commitment, to casting himself headlong into "the way, the truth, and the life." In Christianity this is called Christ. Commitment is called belief. Through believing in Christ--that is, fully committing himself to the way, truth, and life, man then discovers the heaven he had missed in his false godhood.
That possibility which was abandoned in the beginning, namely, the human way, is finally accepted as the only legitimate path to the kingdom of God. Instead of destroying himself, one in this stage of the pilgrimage turns to the challenges of becoming himself. He commits himself to the way of man, to truth rather than pretense, to life rather than death. Self-destruction, or pre-occupation with death and afterlife, is abandoned in favor of self-becoming and the occupation of living fully. Instead of saving the world or others, one commits himself to being saved himself. He drinks the waters of life freely.
One becomes a pilgrim on the path of becoming all that he is created capable of being, of activating his full potential. Capacities avoided, denied, or repressed in the fall are now brought to the light. Sensing capacities are fully activated. One becomes sensual, encountering the physical world in each instant with the entire range of his sensing abilities. Emotions, killed in the fall, are resurrected into life. One becomes a feeling person, one with heart, who is emotionally involved with the world around him.
The mind is freed from its prison. Memories long buried are raised into the light of day. Thoughts denied are now allowed. The capacity to be reasonable, based on personal experience rather than the wishes or beliefs of others, is embraced. Fantasies and imagination, once banished from awareness, are invited to return.
As a sensing-emotional-thinking person, one becomes desirous, wanting, and sensual. He accepts his ability to love, worship, and stand in awe in the presence of the Ultimate in Reality.
Commitment to life involves, of course, responsibility. In this final phase of the human pilgrimage one accepts not only the responsibility for himself, but for the world in which he lives. He accepts, in the words of Genesis, "dominion over" the created order.
As a fully human being, a finite one is thereby ushered into the presence of the Infinite. Man, in becoming truly himself, meets God.
Jesus and the Human Pilgrimage
The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (4:15). Although the available facts about his life are limited, the information included in the Bible certainly confirms his involvement in the common human pilgrimage. While we cannot ascertain that he completed the fourth phase of the process, commitment to humanity, the signs point in that direction.
Not only did he struggle with our common temptations, but the evidence is, as the verse suggests, that he succeeded in overcoming them. He was "without sin." In dramatic form he resisted the temptations of dependency, fame, and magic in the wilderness encounter with Satan, following his baptism.
The act of dependency is portrayed in the temptation to throw himself from the temple and let the angels care for him. Fame is faced in the temptation to receive the glory of "all the kingdoms of the world." Jesus wrestled with the temptation for ultimate fame. The temptation to magic is pictured as the possibility of changing stones into bread. Three years later the ultimate temptation to please god through self-destruction was dramatically encountered in the cross experience.
Although the encounter with Satan is dramatically portrayed in this series of events, the information about his life evidences a continual see-saw battle with facing, struggling, and resisting the temptation to godhood through the four common avenues. At one instant he appears to be down, taken in by Satan; but then he is up again, emerging victorious. Through the events recorded in the New Testament we observe his involvement in the human pilgrimage in the following ways:
For every child the family situation tends to be difficult. For Jesus it was excessively so. Two factors contributed to his uncommon situation. First, he was conceived out of wedlock. Technically this made him a bastard. His father in the family was not his real father. The potential strain which this placed on the primary love triangle must have been exceptional. Knowing that the boy was not his son would likely have tempted Joseph to greater jealousy.
If Jesus knew that Joseph was not his father, he would probably have been even more attached to his mother. Mary, in turn, may well have been excessively tempted to either cling to Jesus and reject Joseph or be indebted to Joseph for marrying her while pregnant and unconsciously rejective of Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus' mother believed she was impregnated by the Holy Ghost, and thus her son would be a direct descendant of God. This viewpoint was strengthened by the support of her cousin, Elizabeth, and the priest, Zachariah. Apparently Joseph acquiesced in the idea. The visit of the wise men following Jesus' birth certainly must have added to the support of the belief. When Jesus was carried to the temple for his dedication, Simeon, an unusual man, said unto Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the falling and rising up of many in Israel" (Luke 2:34).
Thus the bastard child, Jesus, was set-up as being one divinely conceived. Whereas most children are only expected to meet parental expectations and keep up the family name, Jesus was saddled with the idea of being the physical son of God. It is difficult to even imagine the threat and challenge of such a stupendous set-up. Most children are only expected to be good; Jesus was set-up to be perfect.
If Jesus could handle this monumental burden, emerging as a human, he could certainly become a model for others. The size of his set-up so far overshadows that of the ordinary person that his success would give hope to any one.
With this massive set-up projected on him, Jesus faced the challenges of the fall. He encountered Satan in his four most powerful forms: dependency, fame, magic, and sacrifice.
First, dependency; Jesus probably had a father problem. Exaggerated by his illegitimate birth, his problem was primarily projected on a sky father. Separated from an earthly father, he must have been tempted to dependence on a heavenly father.
Satan took Jesus to the top of the temple, tempting him to cast himself down and let the angels protect him. To succumb to such a wish would have been the ultimate form of dependency. If Jesus had abandoned personal responsibility, throwing himself on the angels for support, he would, of course, have achieved false godhood through total dependence.
This dramatic event, probably occurring at the age of 30, becomes particularly significant against the backdrop of Jesus' childhood situation. The common initial form of the dependency temptation is to lean on parents, elevating them to the status of gods, which the child, of course, owns.
Apparently Jesus had already resisted this common form. When he was 12, his parents had taken him to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Afterward they began the return trip, assuming him to be in the party. Upon discovering him to be missing, they returned and after three days found him talking to scholars in the temple. Confronted with his disobedience, Jesus gave this cryptic reply, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49). The separation from dependence on his parents was already in progress, evidenced both by his act and his reply.
The parental break is further evidenced 18 years later when his mother presented him with a problem at a wedding feast in Cana. He replied, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" (John 2:4). Note that he referred to her as "woman," rather than "mother." His question implies, "Your problem is not my business."
His lack of dependence on his family is revealed on another occasion when his brothers and mother came while he was with a group of people. Someone reported, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." He replied, "Who is my mother, or my brethren? And He looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, 'Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother' " (Mark 3:33-35). We may assume he was not dependent on them, since he did not suspend his teaching to entertain them. Instead, he used their coming to convey a message to those around him.
On another occasion a woman attempted to give blessing to his mother. "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked" (Luke 11:27). Jesus, however, diverted this praise, saying, "Rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it" (11:28).
His resistance to the temptation of parental dependency is further attested in his demand for commitment in others. "He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37). Nor did he attempt to alleviate family stress. "For I am come to set a man at variance against his father . . . and a man's foes shall be they of his own household" (Matthew 10:35-36).
The refusal to be dependent on friends and followers is shown in his staunch independence, evidenced in each recorded encounter. He never leaned on them. He was always alert, warding off manipulative questions, refusing to be taken in by devious encounter devices. "Jesus did not trust himself unto them, for he knew all men" (John 2:24). Nor did he require the approval or support of even his closest friends. For instance, when he heard that his friend, Lazarus, was about to die, "He abode two days still in the same place where he was" (11:6). This is hardly the stance of a dependent friend.
Even though he resisted the temptation of dependence on friends, his humanity is revealed in his wish for their support. At Gethsemane, he asked them to wait up for him while he prayed. Returning to find them asleep, he pleaded, "Couldest thou not watch one hour?" (Mark 14:37).
Even though Jesus resisted early temptations to dependency on parents and friends, he was apparently more thoroughly tempted to be dependent on an anthropomorphic god. Avoiding dependence on an earthly father, he shifted the major battle to a possible dependence on a heavenly father. Although he resisted in the wilderness (to cast himself down and be cared for by angels), the three years of his public ministry are a continuous battle with this challenging possibility.
The New Testament contains some 120 references in which he referred to God as Father (my Father, our Father, or simply, Father). Certainly the metaphor of father may aptly be applied to some aspects of God, but even a casual reading of many of Jesus' expressions ("Our Father which art in heaven," "For the Father loveth the Son") reveals his continuing temptation to be dependent on a literal heavenly father.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his last prayers: "Now is my soul troubled...Father, save me" (John 12:27), and in the final agonized plea from the cross: "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Had the arena of his temptation to dependency been with an earthly father, one could almost hear him cry, "Daddy, Daddy, why have you let me down?"
The second tempting avenue to godhood is through the door of fame--approval or being liked. If one is admired, praised, or worshipped by others, then of course he must be one who deserves it. He must be godly to deserve such worship!
Jesus struggled with this temptation also. He had an ego problem. In fact, he almost became an egomaniac. Unlike many who wrestle with only the lesser levels of being liked by family and friends, Jesus carried his struggle to the masses. Early in life he resisted the small temptation to seek parental approval, only to later face its larger dimensions in relation to God himself.
As previously noted, two primary paths to the omnipotency of fame are entertainment and service--amusing or amazing people and helping them. Jesus was well tempted in both areas. Many of his miraculous acts--walking on water, curing on the Sabbath, feeding 5000, changing water to wine, and various healings--have elements of amazing the public. Often he seemed to play to the galleries or perform in ways which would bring public attention to him.
After healing the Gerasene demoniac, he told him, "Return to thy house, and declare how great things God hath done for thee. And he went his way, publishing throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done for him" (Luke 8:39). Jesus must have known the man would tell of him, rather than God.
On another occasion he confirmed these intentions by saying, "The Father loveth the son, and showeth him all things...and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel" (John 5:20).
His see-saw battle is further evidenced in the encounter device he used on several occasions, namely, giving a prohibition which he must have known would become a directive on a deeper level of understanding. For instance, after healing a leper, "He charged him to tell no man" (Luke 5:14). But, of course, as anyone as perceptive as Jesus would predict, "He went out, and began to publish it much"(Mark 1:45), and "so much the more went there a fame abroad of him" (Luke 5:15).
On another occasion he raised a dead girl and "charged them that no man should know it" (Mark 6:43). Predictably, "the fame hereof went abroad into all the land" (Matthew 9:26). Again, after healing two blind men, "Jesus straitly charged them, saying, see that no man know it." Of course, they "spread abroad his fame in all that country" (Matthew 9:30-31). In fact, as Mark records, "the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it" (7:36). On the surface Jesus resisted the wish; more deeply he courted the fame. On another occasion he openly voiced the wish, "That all men should honor the Son" (John 5:23).
If he was tempted to court fame through entertaining or pleasing the public, he was 1000 times more tempted to the omnipotence of service. He had an overwhelming desire to help people. Whereas many are only tempted to help family members or close friends, he wanted to help everybody. Indeed, he seems to have tried to save the whole world!
The omnipotence required for such a fanciful notion is, of course, obvious. Before one could presume to save the world, he would, of necessity, have to elevate himself to godhood. In his continuing struggle with dependency, Jesus did just that. He did not merely have an ego problem, he had what to-day might be called a messiah complex.
He so completely identified himself with God that he sometimes presented himself as God's only son. He wrestled, not merely with the common wish to be the favorite child of his parents, but with the ultimate illusion of being the only son of God. Whereas most humans simply struggle with the idea of being somebody special with other people, he faced the idea of being one special with God.
In what is probably the most widely quoted of all Bible verses, John 3:16, Jesus speaks of himself as God's "only begotten Son." On other occasions he said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30), and "I am the Son of God" (John 9:36). His fellow Jews were understandably offended at him for saying "that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18).
The temptation was perhaps exaggerated because his people had been looking for a messiah for centuries. Numerous signs were commonly accepted, whereby the anticipated savior would be recognized. Jesus no doubt knew these signs and was tempted to present himself as the messiah by fulfilling them.
His flirtation with the role is evidenced when the Jews asked him to show a sign of his messiahship. He replied, "Destroy this temple and in 3 days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). Later the disciples concluded that he was referring to his own body, yet at the time he implied to the Jews that he could show them a sign. In addition, John records at the end of his ministry, "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book" (John 20:30).
Not only did he dabble with giving signs of being a messiah, often he declared it openly. After the woman at Jacob's well spoke of her hope for a messiah, Jesus responded, "I that speak unto thee am he" (John 4:26). In his home town he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, read Isaiah's prophecy about a coming messiah, and then said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled," implying that he was the one. He often referred to himself as a prophet (John 4:44), and acted in ways which made him appear to be the fulfillment of their scriptural prophecies concerning a coming messiah.
His messages were sprinkled with references to this messianic complex with which he struggled: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). "I am from above" (John 8:23). "I am come from God" (8:43). When a man asked him who the Son of God was, Jesus replied, "It is he that talketh with thee" (John 9:37). "I came down from heaven" (6:38). "I came . . . to save the world" (12:48).
Being no doubt aware of the approval which serving others brings, Jesus probably projected his own temptation in the directive he gave in the sermon on the mount: "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men" (Matthew 6:1). His teachings reveal the same temptation towards fame, through the door of service. "Whosoever shall be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all" (Mark 10:43-44). That he practiced his own preaching is evidenced in the next verse, "For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister" (10:45). Both his life and teachings reveal his temptation to godhood through the avenue of service.
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, when, at the time of the Passover, Jesus rode a donkey in a parade while people threw palm branches before him and shouted, "Hosanna" (God Save Us), is another example of courting fame. The march was a take-off on traditional kingly processions. He came in as a common man's messiah, not riding a chariot or horse, but an ass. The deed is particularly illustrative if Jesus consciously did it as the writer records "that the scriptures might be fulfilled."
The temptation to fame persisted until the cross. In his last recorded prayer Jesus prayed, "Father, I will . . . that they may behold my glory" (John 17:24).
Even though Jesus was well tempted by the desire for fame through impressing people and serving them, the evidence is that he continued to resist the final fall. In the wilderness experience he faced the possibility of having the glory of "all the kingdoms of the world" (Matthew 4:8), if he would but worship Satan. He resisted.
Satan obviously came again and again in diverse forms, yet Jesus continued to resist. Although he freely engaged in acts which appeared magical and brought wide attention in the early stages of his ministry, he later turned away from such public demonstrations, devoting himself more completely to preaching, teaching, and training his disciples.
Even after performing in ways which brought him fame, Jesus resisted the temptation to accept the glory they proffered with this declaration, "I look for no mortal fame" (John 5:41 Amp.).
The greatest evidence of his continued resistance lies in the fact that he never succumbed to the mounting pressure that he become a literal messiah for the Jewish people. Certainly he had acquired the acceptance and approval of the masses. He could easily have led a revolt. Yet in the midst of his greatest fame he chose the ignoble way of the cross. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, he "endured the cross, despising the shame" (12:2). After courting fame for three years, both through appeal and service, finally he rejected it all.
The ultimate evidence lies in his disappearance after the resurrection. Certainly the resurrection event could have paved the way for the greatest earthly fame. Yet Jesus resisted. He dropped completely from the limelight.
As with the first two temptations, Jesus also becomes a prototype for encountering the third avenue to godhood--magic. In the wilderness experience he faced it in his desire to change stones into bread. After 40 days of fasting, he was no doubt very hungry. Understandably he would have liked to magically have food available. However, to succumb would be to break his fast, to defeat his purpose in being there. He was apparently struggling to embrace the capacity for being spiritual as well as physical, to accept his potential for a kind of life which bread alone cannot give. Even so, the temptation to eat must have been great. Would he give in? No! Man, if he is to be whole man, cannot live by magic. Material things alone cannot bring spiritual life!
Although he resisted this common temptation in the wilderness experience, Jesus was still to encounter it repeatedly during the following three years.
Nor did Jesus leave his magical fantasies in the realm of thoughts alone. Early in his public ministry (and even in his boyhood, if we accept apocryphal evidence) he began to dabble in magic acts. Perhaps the circumstances of his day--a high level of superstitious beliefs and psychosomatic illnesses--made this temptation stronger. Even so, Jesus certainly indulged in the practice of magic in his apparently supernatural healing.
One of his first public acts was turning water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11). He later "rebuked the wind" for blowing (Matthew 4:39), fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:30-44), walked on water (6:48), and raised Lazarus and others from the dead. The accounts of his healing the blind, lame, leprous, and even a woman with menstrual problems, are manifold.
His final and most dramatic magical act was the resurrection event. He toyed with what would be the ultimate trick--rising from the dead. All his other ventures into magic pale into insignificance in comparison with this apparently supernatural feat. Certainly godhood could be finally established if his omnipotence extended beyond the limits of human life itself.
Although Jesus obviously performed in ways which others could easily take as magic, as they have through the centuries, the evidence is that he never succumbed to the personal belief in his own super-natural powers. "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30), he confessed.
Even after performing what appeared to be magical cures, he often said to the healed person, "thy faith hath made thee whole" (Matthew 9:22), thus disclaiming any supernatural powers. When he was unsuccessful in his healing efforts, he did not consider his magical powers to have failed. Rather he recognized it was "because of their unbelief" (Matthew 13:58).
Though apparently well-tempted, Jesus seems never to have fallen for the idea of actually possessing magical powers.
Scorning the lesser levels of human sacrifice, Jesus was tempted to give up his very life. In modern terminology, he had a martyr complex. The idea of union with God through killing himself is a prevailing motif in accounts of his life from age 30-33. This suicidal inclination is evidenced on both the emotional and physical levels. The magnitude of his wilderness experience, going 40 days without food, implies courting with physical death. In like manner, his thoughts of jumping from the temple were suicidal in nature.
Later he continued to function in self-destructive ways, as though flirting with death. In Nazareth he so enraged his townsmen that they "were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built that they might cast him down headlong" (Luke 4:28-29).
His sayings confirmed the temptation to sacrifice his own life. "For the Son of Man came," said he, "to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark10:45). He taught his followers that "except a corn (grain) of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). He often spoke in ways revealing his temptation to hate life, repressing physical capacities. "He that loveth his life shall lose it," said he, "and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal"(12:25). He likewise demanded the same life-hatred and self-sacrifice of his disciples. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).
The element of cross-bearing prevailed not only in his life but also in his teachings. "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27). "He that taketh not his cross . . . is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:38). "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily" (Luke 9:23).
That he followed his own teaching is evidenced not only in what he did, but also in what he did not do. Of all the events recorded about his first 33 years, we find no clear record of Jesus having any overt pleasure. We read of his saying, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38), but never do we hear him say, "I'm having the time of my life." He said he came that his followers "might have life and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10), but this was one step removed from himself. He talked about it, but apparently did not show them.
We read of his being in such "agony" that "his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44), but no writer records a time when he "laughed so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks." Nor do we have records of his participation in a love for either things, plants, animals, or people on a sensual level.
One of his teachings about adultery is commonly interpreted to mean "it is just as bad to think about it as it is to do it;" so bad, in fact, that one who is tempted to adultery, through looking at a woman, would be better to pluck out his own eye than have it lead him "into hell" (Matthew 5:28-30). For almost 2000 years, religious repression of sex has been based on Jesus' life and teachings.
Apparently the goal of the cross was deeply imbedded in his entire public life. In the beginning he made cryptic remarks about destroying his body (John 2:19-22). He presented himself as a "suffering servant," which was one of the Jewish signs of the messiah. At the last supper he acted out the role by washing the feet of his own disciples.
The glory which he sought through the sacrifice of himself is evidenced in his words as he prepared to go to the cross. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth (on the cross) will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). After pointing out Judas who was to betray him, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of man glorified" (John 13:31).
In his last recorded prayer before the cross, he prayed, "The hour is come; glorify thy Son . . . I have glorified thee on the earth . . . And now, 0 Father, glorify thou me with thine own self . . . " (John 17:1, 4,5). His temptation for glory through self-sacrifice is very evident.
That he hoped for unity with God through the sacrifice of himself is further confirmed in the latter part of his prayer. "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (17:22). Immediately thereafter he proceeded with the final events leading to his crucifixion.
Finally, Jesus resigned from the quest for personal divinity. Unlike most others, he went out with a bang instead of a whimper. The cross was apparently a final desperate effort to elicit the support of a heavenly father, to save the world by dying for it, to join the gods through the terrifying route of self-sacrifice.
The agony of his recognition that god would not save him, even on the cross, is pitifully voiced in his unanswered question, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He evidently realized then that he was on his own, that even the sacrifice of his life would not gain the godhood he longed for.
In resignation he cried out, "It is finished."
Presumably he accepted responsibility for his own life at that moment. Perhaps he entered a self-hypnotic trance, sufficient to fool the Romans and save himself from death on the cross.
Whatever happened, we know this was the end of his public life. Briefly he met with his disciples and friends after the resurrection. Immediately thereafter he dropped completely from the public arena. We have no further record of Jesus the magician, son of God, savior of the world.
He had apparently repented.
We can only speculate about Jesus' moves in this phase of the salvation process. Available information lets us know that he successfully moved through the first three steps. All the signs point in this direction. I conclude that he proceeded to work out his own salvation, to come to be the Christ-like person he had presented as an image to others.
Because of his fame and the massive projections of the public, I surmise that he went underground or left the country. Perhaps he grew a beard, or shaved, moved to a new territory and separated himself from all but his most intimate friends, possibly Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Probably this move had been anticipated for a long time. He had told one group, "Yet a little while am I with you, and I go . . . Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me" (John 7:33-34). "He said therefore again unto them, I go away" (John 8:21). "It is expedient for you that I go away" (John 16:7).
In so doing I imagine that he came to know the God he sought in the years of public ministry. The union which was denied him through his overt efforts must have been granted when he ceased to try. As he joined the human race, I assume that he lived the rest of his life in communion with God.
Jesus' Value To Us
The pertinent question is: What is the value of Jesus' life in relation to our own? What does he mean for us? What use to us is this Jew who lived 2000 years ago?
A traditional view has been that he paid the price for us, that in some magical way his death atoned for us all. Now we need only accept what he has done, believe in him, and try to live up to his teachings. But such thinking only caters to our own magical wishes, inviting us to irresponsibility, other-worldism, and a second-hand godhood of our own.
I do not find this view to be realistic. Certainly those who accept it may find temporary relief from the burdens of this world and enjoy the feeling of godliness inherent in following it. I did myself. However, the premise has not proven valid for me, or many others I have known.
I think the abiding value of Jesus for us lies in four areas: 1) His personal example in confronting the common human temptations and finally resisting each; 2) His teachings; 3) His life style; and 4) His encounters with other people. Observing him in each of these dimensions, we may discover invaluable guidance in working out our own salvation. The remainder of the book will explore these areas.
HIS PERSONAL EXAMPLE
Jesus dramatically faced our common temptations in their most exaggerated forms. Going before us, he showed what it is like to pursue godhood wholeheartedly. Whereas most men only wrestle with minor demons, he faced the ultimate encounter with Satan himself. He pales our paltry efforts towards godhood with his colossal obsession.
If we dare look honestly at his life we can learn from the experience of one who went all the way, facing our own human temptations in their most violent forms. We can see ourselves dramatically mirrored, catching both a reflection of where we now are and the predictable end of each major path. We can see what will happen if we continue.
If wisdom prevails, we can learn from his experience, seeing our own courses reflected, changing them as we will. Pitfalls can be avoided, errors corrected, and tragedies diverted. We can take courage from the knowledge that we are not alone in the pilgrimage. One has gone before, pioneering the way. We can take heart in his message, "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19). He says to us, through his life, "You can make it."
Specifically what can we learn from his example? First, let us grasp the overall picture of the four common temptations toward godhood.
Held by God Glorified by World
Carried by Country Praised by Nation
Depend on Spouse Admired by Community
Supported by Friends Liked by Friends
Lean on Parents Approval of Parents
Con God Kill Body
Amaze Community Deny Sexuality
Fool Family Repress Thoughts
Trick Friends Deny Emotions
Con Parents Deaden Senses
Each temptation may be considered on a scale from 0 to 100. Many of us have only experienced the lesser degrees. Jesus, on the other hand, went all the way. He encountered the temptations at the 100% mark.
For example, most of us are only tempted to lean on parents, be supported by our friends, or depend on a spouse. These are the lesser degrees of a temptation which ultimately becomes casting ourselves on God in an attempt to be held by Him. At the lower levels one only partially depends on other people. Further up the scale, a person may cast himself on his country, expecting to be wholly taken care of by the government through welfare. Finally, one may be tempted, as was Jesus, to jump off buildings or bridges, expecting God to bear him up.
Or consider the fame temptation. Most people are only tempted to maintain the approval of parents or family, be liked by friends, or admired by their community. Higher degrees of the temptation involve seeking national fame and recognition. The ultimate temptation would be to seek the glory of the whole world. Jesus met the temptation on this level. Fame is commonly sought through pleasing or serving. While most persons only try to please or help a few people, Jesus tried to save the whole world. He hoped, said he, "that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17).
So it was with the latter two temptations. While we may only be egotistical enough to attempt to make our families think we are somebody, Jesus went straight to the top, trying to con God with his "only Son" routine. He pursued egotism to its ultimate. So he did with sacrifice. We may attempt to please the gods by repressing or denying various capacities, such as thoughts or desires, and thus offering good behavior. Jesus did not stop with mere self-denial. He was tempted to sacrifice his very life.
What can we learn from Jesus' example? First we may glimpse ourselves in perspective. We may recognize our own temptations to simulate godhood through dependency, fame, magic, or sacrifice. For example, in seeing Jesus resist the temptation to lean on his parents, we may see our own continued parental dependency. In observing his refusal to seek support from friends, we may recognize our own subtle temptations in that direction. Watching his struggle with the desire to cast himself on God, we may catch a glimpse of our own wishes to be sup-ported by a heavenly father.
As we see him court fame, we may recognize our own efforts to be approved by parents or liked by friends. We may realize the great expenditures of energy which go into currying the favor of other people. As we see his final resistance to the temptation to become the messiah of his people, we may take courage in our own resistance to live as the savior of our friends.
Watching him court death, we may realize the lesser temptations we encounter in killing various of our own bodily capacities. Seeing him finally resist the wish to die, we may abandon our own suicidal tendencies.
Until this point we have considered Jesus' life in chronological fashion, as though his pilgrimage were an orderly progression from the set-up to his own commitment after the resurrection event. Although this seems to be a fair summary overall, in specific areas it is inaccurate. Obviously he had already worked out large segments of his own salvation prior to age thirty, as evidenced both in his life and teachings. Although he continued to struggle with the highest degrees of temptations for three more years, he had already surpassed the common degrees of being tempted; that is, he was obviously far ahead of most people in his spiritual pilgrimage.
Perhaps his intellectual awareness, as voiced in his teachings, preceeded his direct experience, as is the case for many. For example, he was teaching others about living the "abundant life," as he proceeded to the cross. Apparently he recognized the goal, even if he was not yet able to embrace it.
His teachings about the necessary death of self reflected a deep psychological awareness, even though they were delivered while he still struggled with the egotistical idea of being the greatest living self, God's "only begotten Son." Certainly he had already tasted the fruits of the kingdom of God because he was able to speak so clearly and definitely about its present existence. Nor could he have known so much about the "narrowness of the way," had he not already experienced the discipline required.
Weighing his teachings against the backdrop of his living, we may profit from a careful analysis of his words as well as his examples. Those of his teachings which have seemed most pertinent to me are these:
The kingdom of God is now
Primacy of Spirit over all else
Salvation through perfection (completion).
THE KINGDOM IS NOW
Traditionally, many only dared imagine or anticipate the kingdom of God at some distant time in the future. Most commonly it is thought to be possible only after physical death. Some have said that the time is close at hand, but even the boldest have generally held it for the future.
In contrast, Jesus plainly contradicted this tradition with his continual teaching that the kingdom is now. "Jesus came into Galilee . . . saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:14-15). ". . . the kingdom of God is come upon you" (Luke 11:20). When the Pharisees pressed for an answer to the question of "when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said. . . behold the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21). To others he said, "I tell you of a truth, there be some of them that stand here, which shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:27). When he sent out his seventy disciples, he told them to "say unto them, the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:9).
When he spoke of those who are saved, his declaration was always present tense. They "have (present tense) eternal life" (John 3:16). Such a person "is passed (present tense) from death unto life" (5:24). He came that man might "have life (present tense), and . . . have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
In like manner he taught that the spiritual events in the salvation process are also present tense--to be expected in the here and now. After describing the parousia (second coming), he said, "Verily I say, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34). On another occasion he spoke of the parousia, concluding with, "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28). Contrary to the traditional view that the second coming is yet to occur, Jesus taught that it was to be anticipated in the current generation.
Likewise, he spoke of the judgment as present tense. "The evil of this world is (present tense) judged" (John 16:11). Not that evil will be judged at some later time--the traditional view--but rather that the judgment is already given. On another occasion he stated plainly, "Now is the judgment . . . " (John 12:31).
Jesus testified to the immediacy of the resurrection in these words, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25). Traditional theology, even in Jesus' day, had projected the resurrection to the end of time. After Martha confronted Jesus with the empty comfort of hope of a future "resurrection at the last day," he clearly declared: "I am (present tense) the resurrection. . . he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (11:25). Jesus shifted the time for the resurrection from the future to the present.
Paul caught the spirit of Jesus' messages. He echoed him plainly in writing, "Now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).
I consider this the most revolutionary of all Jesus' teachings. Whereas before man had only hoped for a future kingdom, Jesus opened the door to its possibility in the here and now. He dismissed other-world theology (which still prevails), by calling for salvation in this world, while man still lives. The great spiritual occurrences--parousia, judgment, and resurrection--commonly imagined to be cataclysmic, cosmic, historical events at some future date, were reinterpreted as individual spiritual happenings. Each was to be anticipated in one's own life time.
Even today this teaching is largely unaccepted in traditional church. His idea of a present kingdom is commonly explained away as only meaning a promise of the later kingdom, after physical death. The prevailing idea is that on this earth one only gets a ticket to heaven which is really to be entered after death (in the future).
Although this-is-it has been accepted by many of the younger generation, traditional religionists largely reject the idea. Almost no established church views the spiritual events--parousia, judgment, and resurrection--as present possibilities in the lives of individual persons. The church calls for salvation, speaks of being (present tense) saved, but still places its major attention on the future. In spite of great progress toward now, the loudest message of traditional church remains: prepare to die, rather than, prepare to live.
Jesus confronted a similar situation in his own day. Once a group of Sadducees, who did not believe in a final resurrection of the dead, came to test him. Assuming that he, like the Pharisees, believed in such a resurrection, they asked a trick question: Suppose, they said, a woman had seven husbands during her life time. Whose wife would she be in the resurrection? An excellent question: Jesus replied, in effect, You don't understand the resurrection. It is beyond such legal arrangements as marriage. But I realize, he said, that you are speaking of a future historical event. Then he quoted a familiar scripture passage: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac (his son), and the God of Jacob (Isaac's son)." Cryptically he concluded, "God is not the God of the dead, but theliving."
Matthew notes, "When the multitude heard this they were astonished at his doctrine" (22:23-33). And they still are.
PRIMACY OF SPIRIT
Man commonly places his greatest value on physical life, with only minor attention--if any at all--given to spiritual life. He is far more faithful and willing to pay his doctor than his minister. A second major message of Jesus is the reverse of this prevailing idea. He consistently taught that spirit is primary. The life which he called for, promised, taught about, and sought, was spiritual. He dealt with the quality, not the quantity of living. His theme was fulfilled life, not perpetual existence.
To understand his teachings we must first grasp a primary distinction between two Greek words, both translated "life" in the English New Testament. The first is psuche, which means "breath; the principle of animal life," and the second, zoe, means "animated existence," "to be possessed of vitality,"or "to pass existence in a special manner." Psuche refers to physical life or merely breathing, while zoe has to do with the quality of living. With psuche, one has animal life, but with zoe, one is possessed of vitality.
Since we must use the same English word for both meanings, some clarification is needed. Colloquialisms may help. With psuche life, one may be "merely existing," but with zoe life, he is "really living." To convey this distinction, theologians generalize with the descriptive phrases, "physical life (psuche)," and "spiritual life (zoe)."
Jesus' continual emphasis was on zoe, or spiritual life, rather than psuche, or physical life. He taught that spiritual life counts. What really matters is being possessed of vitality, or passing existence in a specific manner. He was concerned with" really living," or existence at its fullest, rather than "merely existing," or simply staying alive.
Life in the kingdom of God, which he referred to as "eternal life," was zoe, not psuche. He came "that men might have life"(zoe), not merely psuche. He called on his followers to "enter into life" (zoe) (Matthew 19:17). In other words, he was concerned with spiritual life, vital existence, rather than mere getting by. He cautioned his listeners about placing major attention on physical life--"Take no thought (don't be anxious) for your life (psuche)," and taught that the life which matters is beyond "meat and raiment" (Matthew 6:25).
Seeing those whose primary concern was enhancing physical life through gathering possessions, he warned, "a man's life (zoe, or spiritual life) consisteth not in the . . . things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15). In fact, he cryptically reminded them, "whosoever will save his life (psuche) shall lose it" (Mark 8:35), implying that excessive attention to physical living results in the loss of spiritual life.
In a dramatic encounter with self-righteous religionists who placed great emphasis on external cleanliness, Jesus pointedly called attention to their inward defilement. "He called to him the multitude again, and said unto them, 'Hear me all
of you, and understand: there is nothing from without the man, that going into him can defile him: but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man'" (Mark 7:1-23). Clearly, his focus was on the inward man.
Of course traditional religion has never placed its major attention on physical life as opposed to spiritual life. However, it has essentially missed his emphasis on vitality by imagining a soul within the body. Although intangible, the soul has been perceived objectively (as an entity, or "it"), just as is the body. Common thought has been that the soul (a ghost-like entity) enters the body at birthand leaves at death.
Whereas traditional Christianity has shifted its attention from the body, or physical life, to an imagined soul, still it has missed Jesus' principal focus on the manner of living. Since the imagined soul is also conceived as an entity (an "it"), attention has continued on the objective rather than subjective, on the intangible rather than the tangible. The intangible soul falls in the same categories as the tangible body. Both are essentially objective entities. They are quantities rather than qualities. Jesus placed his attention on the quality of living, not the quantity of either body or soul.
The idea of perpetual existence of an intangible soul (either disembodied or reunited with a body) in some place following death, is, I think, entirely contrary to Jesus' teachings. He taught about fullness of life (zoe), not the extension of breathing (psuche).
Perhaps the strongest of Jesus' messages regarding the primacy of Spirit are evidenced in his practice and teachings in relation to the law. By law I refer to all rules about living--civil laws, religious commandments, social practices, and community mores. Man commonly has elevated the law over spirit in his value system.
Being legal or right has taken precedence over being spirited. One is first supposed to behave (keep the rules), then to feel good if he can. If one or the other must be sacrificed, spirit must go first. Children must first learn to behave, then they can have a good time, so long as they do so without misbehaving. Adults must first keep the laws, then follow spirit if they can do so within the bounds of the established rules.
Courts of law are primarily concerned with up-holding the law. If they can make allowances for a well-meaning lawbreaker, they may do so; but, primarily, breaking the law takes precedence over any good intentions of the offender.
In many churches the good members are those who keep the commandments. If they also happen to be spirited, well and good, but being righteous (understood as legal) takes precedence over being spirited. The best children are also the well-behaved ones. Abundant spirit is more often condemned than encouraged.
Of course societies (civilizations, countries, cities, churches, clubs, and families) are best served immediately by legalism. Things work better when everyone keeps all the laws. Regrettably, structures which originally emerge to serve individuals, tend to become inherently sacred. Instead of servant, the law often becomes the master. Then persons exist to maintain the law, rather than rules existing to serve individuals. The tail begins to wag the dog.
Into this kind of situation Jesus came with an old but relevant message. The Jewish people had perfected legalism to a high degree. The Romans were less devoted to law, but were not far behind. To them both, Jesus came preaching and practicing the primacy of spirit over law. Said he, with his life and words, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
He constantly broke the religious laws of the Jews--in their eyes not keeping the Sabbath holy, neglecting ceremonial washings, associating with the wrong people, and healing on holy days. In the famous Sermon on the Mount he dared contradict the most sacred of all the commandments, those given by Moses himself.
Six times he said, "The law says . . . , but I say . . . " He explained that he was dealing with the "fulfillment of the law"--that is, the elevation of spirit over law.
His ministry was a continual expression of this reversal. Examples abound: The woman at the well in Samaria (good Jews did not associate with Samaritans, certainly not with prostitutes); he even told her that sacred Jerusalem was not the only place to worship. When the Pharisees brought a woman taken in the act of adultery, an offense calling for stoning, he refused to condemn her; his most scathing criticisms were directed at the Scribes and Pharisees, the real sticklers for the law.
At the conclusion of his ministry he comforted his disciples, not with the promise of a guide book, a set of rules on what to do after I'm gone, but rather with "the Spirit of truth" (John 16:13). "He will guide you," he said. In other words, he thought the spirit of truth is more important than the letter of the law.
SALVATION THROUGH PERFECTION
The third of Jesus' radical teachings which seems most pertinent to our present time is the idea of achieving salvation through dying to self and perfectly becoming, even as God is.
In an age when ego, self-confidence, self-esteem, or being somebody is vaunted as a goal, Jesus' haunting message: "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it" (Luke 9:24), is strangely out of place. His call to "Be ye therefore perfect" (Matthew 5:48), is most often unheeded by people willing to settle for half-being, or worse, non-being.
The two most commonly accepted religious ideas about salvation today are that it comes 1) from accepting Jesus Christ, or, 2) from living up to the teachings of the church (or a combination of the two). The first is typified in Billy Graham type evangelism and is accepted in a large segment of Protestantism. The second is the prevailing idea of the Catholic Church. Both of these ideas are, I believe, foreign to the message of Jesus.
In his life, teachings, and demonstration on the cross, he pointed to the first part of the salvation process as dying to self. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself . . . and whosoever will save his life shall lose it" (Matthew 16:24-25). "Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (18:4). "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (23:12).
He said, "he that layeth up treasures for himself" will lose his own soul (Luke 12:21). "He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39). "I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it" (John 12:24-25).
In choosing the way of the cross he graphically demonstrated the truth he had tried to convey in his teachings. He pointedly chose to turn away from the fame he might well have had in becoming somebody, namely, a political messiah for the Jews. Instead, he chose an ignoble form of death--the cross.
In being crucified, buried, and rising from the grave, he showed his followers what he meant. Only through dying to themselves could they be resurrected into newness of life.
What is the meaning of dying to self? How are we to understand this strange message in a post-Freudian age? Has the discovery of the unconscious rendered it invalid? Does 20th century psychological awareness make it out of date?
I think not. The necessity of this crucial phase in the salvation process is as essential as it has always been, perhaps even more so today. But what does it mean? To grasp this strange idea we must first consider the development of the self. Modern psychology is helpful in this understanding.
In the beginning children are themselves. This is a literal statement which may also be reversed. "Themselves are the children," that is, the self of a child is the child. A child is literally, himself. He is what he is. He knows no shame or guilt. He does not pretend or hide. He is completely honest, without facade. A child has no self, because he is himself. To see a child is to see who he is. What you see is what you get.
Soon, however, in the process of socialization, a terrible tragedy occurs. The Bible calls it sin. A child ceases to be himself, in various degrees, in favor of becoming what he is not. As a way of coping with a threatening environment he begins to pretend, to play at being what he is not. Instead of being himself, he develops a self which is not truly him. Perhaps to please mother or father, he learns to act like this self which he is not.
At first it may only be a game. In time, however, games become serious. That which was once merely an act--such as acting like a good boy--becomes a fact. He actually becomes a good boy; that is, he comes to be this good self which in the beginning he acted as. He gives up being himself in favor of the false self he has created to please his parents.
In time the repertoire of false selves, developed to fit various situations, may be expanded. Through practice, a child may acquire many selves other than the one he truly is. In varying degrees he may even lose contact with his given self, coming to believe that he actually is one or more of the false selves he has created or acquired.
Since each of these additions is, in effect, a godly act removing one from the common plain of humanity, the result is theologically called false godhood. Leaving himself, the individual becomes a god. Of course he is not actually a god, because he does not in truth become the selves he creates. He is a false god. Functioning in a godly manner, however, he is, for all practical purposes, inhuman. He has become an inhuman self--or selves.
The first step in the salvation process is the denial of the false self or selves. One must give up the godly act, stop pretending to be what he is not. Literally, he must die to these selves he has become. As Jesus warned, the person engaged in saving his life, or maintaining the false selves he has become, is bound to lose it. Since the selves are false, there is no way they can abide in reality.
Furthermore, one must go back to being as a little child; he must humble himself, that is, give up being somebody and return to the honest state in which he first existed. He must reactivate the open, spontaneous, creative condition of childhood, pre-sin. Just as a grain of wheat is isolated and alone, so an egotistical man abides alone. Only when the grain goes back to the ground, in effect, dying as a separate grain, does it become productive. So with man. Only when he returns to the common ground, dying to his false selves, can he become the productive person he is created capable of being.
The crucifixion and resurrection beautifully demonstrated this inner transformation. Man must take up his cross, daily; that is, he must regularly be dying to himself. The mystery is that although he thinks he will actually die if he gives up the selves he has become, he will, in fact, be resurrected. He will be raised to walk in newness of life. Like the legendary phoenix bird, he rises from his own ashes to fly new skies.
The second phase of the salvation process begins where the first ends. As one dies to his false selves, he opens the door to becoming himself, that is, to activating the potential self which he abandoned in the beginning. Jesus referred to this process as becoming perfect. The Greek word which he used has a different meaning from the current understanding of the English word, perfect. The present word is often taken to refer to moral exactitude, or living up to the highest letter of the law, while the Greek word, teleios, used by Jesus, meant "brought to completion; fully developed; entire, as opposed to what is partial or limited."
In other words, Jesus' exhortation to "be perfect" referred to being completed or fully developed. In today's language the message might be stated: Activate your fullest potential. Become all that you are capable of being. Do not remain partial, limited, or less than you can be. Mature. Grow up. Become your true self.
A modern translation of Jesus as recorded by Matthew (5:48) could be: "Become yourself. Be completely, even as God is." Just as God wholly is what he is, so man is to fully become himself also. Paul caught the spirit of Jesus' message and amplified the admonition: "...that we might arrive at really mature manhood--the completeness
of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ's own perfection--the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ, and the completeness found in him" (Ephesians 4:13 Amp.).
But what does this mean? How can we mentally grasp perfection? What is the scope of man's capabilities? What does becoming mean? For thought purposes, the potentiality of man can be broken down into five areas: senses, emotions, mind, sexuality, and love. First, man is capable of sensing, of receiving a wide range of stimuli through his sensing mechanisms--eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin (touch). To activate this potential completely would mean to exist in the moment as a sensually alert person, receiving all given messages available at the time--seeing what is to be seen, hearing all sounds within the range of the ears, smelling all odors, plus touching or tasting as is appropriate to the circumstances.
To be imperfect or only partially completed in this area would mean to have one's sensing capacities curtailed or turned-off at the moment, that is, not to be seeing all that is exposed, (to be looking without seeing); not to be hearing the available sounds (not listening); not to be smelling (having one's nose turned-off); not tasting or touching (being out-of-touch). When this capacity is activated, one is fully sensual. When deactivated, one is insensitive or unaware.
The second area of man's potentiality is his emotions. We are created capable of being emotional, of existing in each moment with the feeling capacity operative. Just as we can sense a wide range of stimuli, so we are able to respond emotionally to that which we sense, that is, to feel. The range of man's potential feelings is also great, varying from anger, fear, and jealousy, to pleasure, delight, and attraction.
When the capacity is activated, one is consciously feeling his honest emotions in response to all that he senses. He is emotionally turned-on. Conversely, when the capacity is deactivated, man is emotionally turned-off. He is not feeling. This condition of emotional death may be described as being hard-hearted, cold, or unfeeling.
The third dimension of the human potential is thought or mind. Man is capable of thinking. He can remember, add things up (reason), and fantasy or imagine. In any given moment he can have the full range of his mental capacities activated, being open to his past, reasonable, and imaginative. On the other hand, when he is not being perfect,
he will mentally have his mind closed. He will block out the past (forget what has happened), be unreasonable (prejudiced), and refuse to fantasy about what might be. He will be unthinking.
The activation of the three basic human capacities--sensing, feeling, and thinking--allows for a fourth potential area of humanity, namely, sexuality. Man can also be sexually alive. He can be desirous, wanting, attracted, or in colloquial terms, he can feel sexy or stimulated. He can be sensual in a way which is far more than simply sensitive. When man is being perfect his sexual capacity is activated. Just as he is being sensitive, being emotional, and thinking, so he is being sexual. Conversely, when one is imperfect or incomplete in this area, he is partially or wholly turned-off sexually. He is not desirous or wanting. He feels little or no sexual awareness.
A fifth dimension of human capacity is love. When man embraces his first four capabilities, when he exists as a sensing, emotional, thinking, and sexual person, then he can also be loving.
By loving we mean existing in an open, responsive, contained, and responsible way. In this condition a person is open to his surroundings, sensitively aware of what is happening. He is responsive, that is, responding emotionally, mentally, and sexually. At the same time he is contained. He stands with his sensations and responses, holding them within himself. He is not overwhelmed by them, nor does he seek to dissipate the power of his responses by suppression or expression. Finally, he is responsible. He reacts externally in the most appropriate manner, considering his knowledge and goals.
In this condition a person worships God; that is, he experiences the worth-ship of the ultimate in reality. Things matter to him; in fact, everything matters. He cares. Life has meaning, not because of any external reason, but because he has blessed it with his fullest presence. As a loving person, worshipping God, he is peaceful, joyful, and happy,
at one with himself and the world. He is a completely activated person--perfect. He is a human being, no better or worse than any other person, animal or thing. All men are his brothers. This world is his home. Heaven is on earth, and he has entered the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Jesus used a personal metaphor in speaking of this experience of completion or perfection. He personified "the way" in his own life, presenting himself as a "son of God," that is, one who had become, one who had achieved unity with God. "I and the Father are one," said he. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). "The Father is in me and I am in the Father" (10:38).
"I am the door," said he (10:9). "I am the resurrection and the life" (11:25). "I am the way and the truth and the life" (14:6). After so thoroughly identifying himself with God and the ultimate, he then used himself as a metaphor in instructing his followers. If they wished to have eternal life, they must be "in him." Since he was the "bread of life" (6:48), they had to "eat this bread" (Vs. 51) in order to live. "You cannot have any life in yourselves unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood--unless you appropriate his life" (Vs. 53 Amp.). "He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has (possesses now) eternal life" (Vs. 54 Amp.). "He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood dwells continually in me, and I in him" (Vs. 45 Amp.).
John records that "When his disciples heard this, many of them said, 'This is a hard and difficult and strange saying' " (Vs. 60 :amp.). Indeed it is. The graphic picture of his metaphor is that He became "the life," and our avenue to "the life" is through him. We must eat him, or appropriate his life, and so come to be in him.
On other occasions he spoke less graphically with the phrases, "Abide in my word" (8:31), "Enter in (to the kingdom) through me" (10:9), or most commonly, "believe in me." "He who believes in me has (now possesses) eternal life" (6:47 Amp.).
Unfortunately this latter directive, which is currently the best known of Jesus' teachings, tends to be grossly misunderstood, based on modern word meanings. While the idea of being saved through believing in Christ is quite popular, the deeper significance of believing is lost in modern translation.
Today believe means "accept as true" or "agree with." "Intellectual assent" is Webster's phrase. Based on this modern translation, the meaning of Jesus' message becomes "agree with me" or "accept me as the true one." Give intellectual assent to my life and teachings.
In this frame of thought much current evangelism, keyed to the idea of "believing in Christ" or "accepting Jesus as Savior," is taken to mean that one can be saved by simply agreeing with Jesus, giving intellectual assent to the idea that he was the Son of God, that he came to save us, and that our eternal destiny is secured in heaven if we but accept what he has done for us.
Others add that we must also do what he said or follow his teachings. Summed up, a common understanding of Jesus' dictum about eternal life through belief in him is that man today can be saved by accepting Jesus, and trying to live as he taught.
Such understanding falls short of the significant words which he used. First, the Greek word, translated "believe," is far more comprehensive than our modern word. This Greek verb, pisteuo, which in the noun form, pistis, is translated as faith, had more to do with commitment than with thinking. Where modern belief is simply intellectual, New Testament belief meant total trust.
Jesus meant far more than "agree with me" or "think I'm right." He said, in effect, "commit yourself into me." As in his more graphic metaphors of "eating his flesh and drinking his blood," he called for a complete being in him. Man can be saved, not simply by accepting Jesus, but by coming to "be in" what Jesus was. Belief in Christ means being in Christ, rather than agreeing with Jesus and acting like him.
Mental belief is not enough. Salvation comes only through the existential experience of finding our existence in him. Accepting him, even living up to his teachings, is inadequate. We must literally come to be in him. We must find our existence in the same way he did, joining him in the "strait and narrow" path. We must be into what he was into.
What does this mean? To be in Christ is to be what Jesus was. What was he? Said he, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). If we are to be in him, we too must be in "the way;" that is, we must be in "the way things are," in reality, rather than lost from "the way." In "the way," we know where we are going.
Likewise we must be in "the truth." If we exist falsely (in falsehood) we cannot be in him. We must be truthful, that is, live honestly, if we are to be in Christ. Finally, Christ is also "the life." If we exist in him, we are "in life" rather than "out of it." We are in tune with reality, with life as it is, in harmony with the facts of life--including death.
To be in Christ thus means to find our existence in the way, in truth, in life. The current worship of Jesus is foreign to his teachings. Although he was tempted to accept this adoration in his own day, he finally turned it down. He called his disciples to enter his way of life, not to worship or elevate him personally. In fact, he told his followers that he expected them to do even greater things than he had done, because he was leaving (John 14:12).
The thrust of his message about believing or being in him is that salvation is to be found through complete becoming. Every man must be in Christ; he must completely become himself. That is, our salvation comes just as his did. We too must become "sons of God," even as he did. We also must achieve unity with God through completely becoming ourselves.
Although I have presented the cross event as a final demonstration or teaching situation in which Jesus graphically illustrated the necessity of dying to self in order to be resurrected, an equally strong case can be made for the cross as a final tragic evidence of Jesus' own temptation to dependence. Probably there were elements of both, the first on a conscious level, the second, unconscious at the time.
In favor of its being a sign of his current struggle are the degrees of physical suffering it must have entailed plus the risky chance that he could have been actually killed by the soldiers (at least have his legs broken). Even if Jesus had mastered Eastern arts of self-hypnosis, being able to enter a death-like trance sufficient to fool the public, there was still the cruel punishment of the crown of thorns, carrying the cross, and the necessary consciousness at the beginning when the spikes were driven in the hands. Furthermore, considering the fickle procedures of the Roman government, even the best-laid plans with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, concerning the securing of his body, could easily have gone awry. The plot appears more like a concealed plea for help than a responsibly-chosen teaching demonstration.
In actuality, I think that Jesus overstated his case at the time in the use of the personal metaphors, perhaps accounting in part for the violent rejections he received. Verbal assertions of his current divinity are not fully evidenced in the facts available concerning his life. No doubt his grandiosity and excessive egotism were apparent to the Jews in spite of his claims to have "arrived."
The evidence I note is threefold: First, his defensive assertions themselves. "Methinks the lady (man) doth protest too much" (Shakespeare). His repeated declarations about his sonship contain a defensive element. He "protested too much," implying a person attempting to prove a point he was unsure of on a deeper level. Had his personal sonship been completed at the time, I doubt that he would have been so diligent in attempting to prove himself, to insist that he was "the only begotten Son," or that his assertions would have provoked the ire they inevitably did.
Secondly, his life, at least as much as we know about it, does not evidence the degree of completion which he asserted. He was living not as a fulfilled person, but more like a fanatic riding a cause. He was more of a man on a mission than a man within himself. His excessive devotion to the cause implies elements of escapism from himself. Had he arrived as completely as he taught, he would no doubt have been having more fun than is evidenced. He took himself too seriously for one who was truly united with God. He appears as a suffering servant rather than a joyful son. The weight of the world seems to have been on his shoulders.
Finally, the desperate cry from the cross, if not the cross event itself, is the strongest testimony to the remaining dependency of Jesus. All his outer courage and show of bravery are swept aside in that last pathetic plea, "Why have you let me down, Father?" For Jesus to have felt let down (forsaken), he had to assume that he was still being upheld by his sky father, his own personal magician.
Although one may properly use the metaphor of Father and son in referring to God and man, it seems that Jesus was yet taking it literally at the time of the cross. Apparently he harbored a secret hope that in some miraculous way he would be rescued from the predictable end of the train of events he had himself initiated. He had gotten into it, but still hoped "daddy would get him out." Coupled with his voiced plea for help near the end, this evidence can be added to a case for Jesus' preaching being ahead of his practice.
Even if it be assumed, however, that Jesus' verbal assertions were not backed-up by his manner of living at the time, that his teaching was somewhat ahead of his personal practice, the validity of his message is the crucial point here. Even if we judge the cross event as his personal temptation toward dependency rather than a mature teaching demonstration, we need not negate his verbal teaching or the non-verbal message of the cross.
The significant point for us is not his degree of sonship at the time, but rather, was he right? Does salvation come through death to self and individual completion, or does it not? This is the critical issue.
Whether or not Jesus responsibly chose the cross, I conclude that his message is nevertheless valid. I think he was speaking ahead of his experience, as most men seem to do, calling others to what he anticipated, wished for, but had not yet found. If we accept that his vision of himself as son of God was what he called others to "be in," then his teaching seems valid. Certainly we are not to imitate a suicidal young man trying to teach a lesson by courting death. Yet we may well strive to be in one who was becoming "the way and the truth and the life."
HIS LIFE STYLE
Unfortunately, we have very little information about Jesus' personal life. The gospels are full of accounts of his teachings and public ministry, yet are strangely silent about the man behind the words and deeds. Perhaps this is because Jesus concealed his private life, or maybe it did not concern the gospel writers. In either case, our sketchy outline of how Jesus, the man, lived must be drawn from inferences, deductions, reading between the lines, and small personal vignettes tucked away in the accounts of his public life.
An analysis of the gospel records gives 105 separate glimpses into the personal life of Jesus. These vignettes are usually at the beginning or end of public events which were the main concern of the biblical writers. Sometimes they are deductions drawn from his response to people, things, and happenings. Occasionally they are inferences based on what he did not do, rather than what he did. Of course, innumerable inferences of the latter sort could be drawn from his teachings. However, we have restricted our study to only the most obvious events which reflect the personal Jesus. Based on these 105 incidents, the following deductions seem warranted.
First, Jesus was obviously an independent person, one who chose his own way in life. As previously noted, he was neither dependent on parents, brothers and sisters, or friends. He was equally free from direction by his disciples, followers, public officials, or the law itself--social, religious, or civil. In every instance, he reveals himself as an inner-directed, rather than an outer-directed man.
The incidents supporting this conclusion range from his response to his parents' concern, when he was only 12 years old, to the end of his public ministry, probably at age 33. On seven occasions he was told what to do by his disciples, close friends, brothers, and the Pharisees. Each time he refused to be diverted from his self-chosen course. For example, when a woman of Canaan was apparently causing trouble, "his disciples came and besaught him saying, send her away; for she crieth after us" (Matthew 16:23). He refused. When his brothers attempted to send him to a feast, he refused to go. The Pharisees wanted him to stop his disciples' shouting. Again, he refused.
His freedom from direction by traditions is evident in eight specific events, plus numerous other happenings only eluded to. Contrary to Jewish tradition he talked openly with a Samaritan. He ate with publicans and sinners. When his disciples broke religious law by plucking corn on the Sabbath and eating with unwashed hands, he defended them. On another occasion the Pharisees "marvelled that he had not washed before dinner" (Luke 11:38). Contrary to religious law, he performed many healings on the Sabbath.
A second conclusion: Jesus was a truly separate one who chose to be alone on many occasions. His personal independence of other people is reflected in the number of times he left the multitudes, and even his disciples, to be by himself. Based on numbers only, we would conclude that this is the most distinctive of all Jesus' personal characteristics. Almost one-fourth of the intimate glimpses given us are related to his going to be alone.
"And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place . . . " (Mark 1:35). "And he went forth again by the seaside . . . " (2:13). "And he goeth up into the mountain" (3:13). "On that day Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the sea-side" (Matthew 13:1). "Then he left the multitudes, and went into the house" (13:36). "He with-drew . . . in a boat, to a desert place apart" (14:13). "Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee . . . and a great multitude followed . . . and Jesus went up into the mountain"(John 6:1).
"He . . . withdrew apart to a city" (Luke 9:10). "When evening was come . . . he (was) alone on the land" (Mark 6:47). "They found him on the other side of the sea" (John 6:25). "And he entered into a house, and would have no man know it" (Mark 7:24). "He went up into the mountain, and sat there" (Matthew 15:29). "And they went every man unto his own house: but Jesus went unto the mount of Olives" (John 8:1). "He departed and hid himself from them" (12:36). "When the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach" (21:5). He "departed thence into the country near to the wilderness" (11:54).
The desert, the mountain, the sea, the house, the boat, the city, the land, the wilderness, the beach--the place seems incidental. When they went to seek him, "Jesus was found alone" (Luke 9:36).
Prayer was obviously an important element in his personal life. On many of these ventures in aloneness, the writer also records that he prayed in his solitude. "He went out into the mountain to pray; and he continued all night in prayer" (Luke 6:12). "He fell on his face, and prayed" (Matthew 26:39)."Again he went away and prayed" (Mark 14:39).
Evidently his praying impressed his disciples: "As he was praying in a certain place . . . his disciples said . . . teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Twelve of our glimpses into Jesus' personal life are related to occasions of prayer.
He was also a very sensitive person. Eight incidents reflect his perceptiveness. On one occasion a woman of faith was healed as she touched the hem of his garment in a crowd of people. "Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power proceeding from him had gone forth, turned about in the crowd, and said, 'who touched my garments?' " (Mark 5:30). "Peter said . . .'Master, the multitudes press thee and crush thee.' But Jesus said, 'Some one did touch me; for I perceived that power had gone forth from me' "(Luke 8:45-46).
Often he sensitively picked up the thoughts of others. "And Jesus, knowing their thoughts said . . . " (Matthew 9:4). "Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, said . . . " (Mark 2:8). "Jesus, perceiving their reasonings, answered . . . " (Luke 5:22). The nature of his responses on many other occasions clearly indicates his sensitive awareness of what others were thinking.
Perhaps this same sensitivity allowed him to function in an elusive fashion when he wished to get away from people. "They sought again to take him: and he went forth out of their hand" (John 10:39). "They took up stones therefore to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple" (8:59). "Jesus . . . conveyed himself away, a multitude being in the place" (5:13). "But he passing through the midst of them went his way" (Luke 4:31).
Our intimate glimpses also reveal Jesus as an emotional man. From compassion to anger, his feelings seem to run the gamut of those common to man. Next to the incidents revealing his wish to be alone, more references point to his emotional nature than to any other element in his life style. Twenty-four accounts evidence the range of his feelings.
Among them are these statements: He "looked around about on them with anger" (Mark 3:5). "He sighed deeply in his spirit" (8:12). He was "grieved at the hardening of their hearts" (3:5) "When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them" (Matthew 9:36). "He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled" (John 11:33). "Jesus wept" (11:35).
"He was moved with indignation" (Mark 10:14). Once he said, "Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say?" (John 12:27). Again, "he began to be sorrowful and sore troubled," saying, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:37-38). "And being in agony . . . his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44).
Perhaps nowhere is more emotion revealed than in his plaintive plea from the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).
Although we must use our imagination, certain of his acts surely expressed deep feelings. For instance, the two occasions when he forcible drove moneychangers from the temple must certainly have been backed with strong emotion. His anger and frustration were revealed when he began "to upbraid the cities . . . because they repented not" (Matthew 11:20). Likewise, when "he turning about . . . rebuked Peter" (Mark 8:33). His deep passion for people is evidenced in this lament: "0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Luke 13:34).
He showed tenderness when "he took them (the children) in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them" (Mark 10:16). Anger must be reflected in this expression: "Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers" (Matthew 23:33), and also in his curse of the fig tree, "Let there be no fruit from thee henceforth forever" (21:19). Obviously he cared for his followers. John speaks of "one of the disciples, whom Jesus loved" (13:23). At his last supper with his disciples, he implored them to love each other "as I have loved you."
Anger, grief, compassion, frustration, sorrow, tears, groaning in spirit, indignation, agony, desperation, sadness, tenderness, and love--Jesus was certainly a very emotional man.
Finally, his deeply human nature is nowhere more evidenced than in his temptation experiences. The account of his wilderness battles with Satan, which he must have told about himself, show him subject to the most universal of all man's temptations--dependency, fame, and magic. His temptation to sacrifice himself, revealed in the entire event of the cross, shows an even deeper element of common human experience.
Although he finally resisted each of these escapes from being himself, the fact that he faced them so completely shows him as thoroughly human.
In summary, our limited information on the personal life of Jesus reveals him as a basically independent man. Though he was deeply involved with many other people, he always remained a separate one in their presence. Never did he lean on others. We have no evidence of any dependency on parents, brothers and sisters, friends, or people in general.
His independence was apparently not achieved without great struggle. From beginning to end, he seems to have wrestled with the challenges of achieving his own destiny. In this struggle he constantly found it expedient to leave others in order to be by himself. These times alone often involved deep and earnest prayer.
From the strength found in his solitude, he was able to move through the social and political structures of his time without dependence. Although generally a law-abiding citizen, he was not compulsively dependent on any existing legalism--social, religious, or civil. When expedient, he broke the rules which often bound his fellowman.
His public life reveals him as a deeply emotional person who was intensely involved in the affairs of his time--yet without being overwhelmed by them. Sensitively he perceived what was happening, moving judiciously toward his goals, or fleeing elusively when he chose. Never does he appear to be pinned down by the people or events surrounding him, except by his own choice. Even the agony of the cross was obviously self-chosen.
From all human perspectives, Jesus reveals him-self as his own man.
What can we learn from Jesus' life style? These lessons emerge:
The value of independence: If we are to follow Jesus' example, we will also strive to become independent persons. Ties which leave us dependent on parents, relatives, friends, or strangers will all be severed. To achieve our own given destinies, we will free ourselves from all bondage which might stand in the way of moving in any new direction.
Likewise, we will cut ties with the structures which surround us. Not that we will necessarily break traditions and laws, but rather we will free ourselves from dependence on them. We will become able to go against any social, civil, or religious custom or rule, when feasible.
The necessity of solitude: Considering Jesus' struggle, we will not expect achieving such monumental independence to be an easy task. As did he, we will be dedicated in working toward this significant state of existence. In the course of encountering the common temptations, we too will perhaps find it expedient to often go alone. Arranging quiet times apart from others was seldom easy for Jesus. Often he had to leave multitudes who were seeking him. Though unsought by multitudes, we too may find solitude difficult to achieve. Perhaps we, like him, will turn aside to the desert, the sea, the mountains, wilderness, city, or house, depending on our private circumstances. We also may have to "rise a great while before day." However difficult these times may be to arrange, we will take the steps necessary.
Once alone, our directions are limited. Often Jesus prayed. We too will develop the fine art of voicing ourselves honestly to God, the ultimate in reality. At other times, Jesus apparently just sat. Following him, we will learn to sit alone, undistracted by activity. Again alone, he wrestled mightily with his current temptations. In our solitude we may expect at times to encounter Satan also. If we learn from Jesus, we will continually resist Satan's various temptations.
Becoming emotional: Being cool and collected--that is, unemotional, has become a virtue in our society. Following Jesus, we will depart from this traditional rigidity, embracing our own capacity for existing as emotional persons. We will open the doors to all feelings which arise within our breasts. While feeling the power of emotions, we will, like him, learn to contain this force, translating it into actions useful in achieving self-chosen goals.
Being perceptive: In living as emotionally contained, independent persons, we will necessarily follow Jesus in developing a high degree of sensitivity toward other people. We will learn to be perceptive to their thoughts and intentions. Existing independently requires sharp discernment. John said of Jesus on one occasion: He "did not trust himself unto them . . . " (2:25). Perceptive of various traps projected by others, we will no doubt be equally distant at times.
Because his independent ways sometimes elicited the wrath of others, Jesus learned, for his own protection, to function elusively in his relationships. "He passing through the midst of them went his way."At times we too, as we become responsibly independent, may find it necessary to elude the projected demands made by others.
HIS ENCOUNTERS WITH PERSONS
Assuming Jesus to be functioning as a maturing person in his public ministry, we may profitably view him as a model for our own encounters as we seek to mature. Even if he was partially acting out a role he had not yet fully become, still his manner of meeting others can be taken to reflect his best degree of understanding of how encountering should be.
The question of how to meet others in a loving way remains largely unanswered even today. We have experiences with dependency as children, perhaps with how to be a sibling, a spouse, a friend, pupil, teacher, employee or employer. We may have learned how to be in love.
Still, the larger question, how is one to relate lovingly with all people?, is a concern as one moves through the salvation process. Does a loving person direct his loved ones? Advise them? Discipline them? Accept them? Depend on them? Trust them? Tell them his secrets? Answer their questions? How does a growing individual function in an encounter when he respects himself but also cares for the other person?
These questions will form the background for our research into the encounters of Jesus with particular persons. From the descriptions of these occasions we will seek to draw general guidelines which may be applied to our lives today.
Using Robertson's Harmony of the Gospels as a guide for determining duplicate reports of the same event, we have New Testament records of 179 separate encounters between Jesus and another person or persons. By encounter we refer to any direct meeting during which there was an obvious exchange, verbally or non-verbally. Eighty-six of these encounters were between Jesus and individuals. Ten occurred with couples; 83 involved a group numbering from 3 other persons up to a multitude.
The 86 reported meetings with individuals include 59 different persons--40 men, 13 women, 3 children, and 3 identified only as "one." Twenty-three of the individuals are named--19 men and 4 women; 36 are unnamed. These include 3 lawyers, 8 women, 2 rulers, 2 lepers, 3 children, a nobleman, a centurion, a scribe, an officer, a thief, and the 3 "ones."
Of those encounters with named individuals, 17 were with Peter. Three were with his mother, 3 with Martha, and 3 with Judas. Mary, Thomas, Pilate, John, and Philip each had 2 recorded exchanges with Jesus.
Encounters with couples included 3 with James and John, 2 with Andrew and Peter, and 1 each with Andrew and a disciple of John, Mary and Martha, 2 blind men, and 2 other unidentified men on the road to Emmaus.
His 83 group meetings were with 16 different groups. Most of these (36) occurred between Jesus and his disciples. Others were designated as follows; 11 with the Pharisees; 8 with "crowds;" 7 with scribes and Pharisees; 6 with "Jews"; 3 with apostles; 2 with scribes; 2 with chief priests; and 1 each with Samaritans, worshippers, Herodians, brethren, officers, 10 lepers, Sadducees, and "they."
Seventy-eight of the recorded encounters were apparently initiated by Jesus--that is, he seems to have made the first move. In 101 of the meetings he responded to an initial word, question, or move made by the other party. Some of the encounters involved an extended series of responses and counter-responses. Others were concluded with a single exchange. The gospels record many other occasions when either Jesus or others made an initial move, but received no apparent response. We limit our study to the 179 encounters including expressions or acts by both parties in the meeting.
From this wealth of information, what conclusions can be drawn? What can we learn from Jesus' encounters with people? Are there lessons applicable to our meetings with persons 20 centuries later? I think so.
HOW HE MET
Before attempting to draw relevant conclusions, let us briefly summarize several obvious facts. First, Jesus' encounters were creative, fresh, and lively. Although we shall attempt generalizations about his meetings, it becomes immediately evident that no unchanging rules of how to do it can be observed. Each encounter was a spontaneous, exciting exchange.
When Jesus met a person, something happened! Sparks flew. His encounters were never dull or routine. People reacted to meeting Jesus. Some favorably; some with hostility; some with immediate changes in their entire life courses. They loved or hated him, but few who met him were indifferent. Whereas many people meet, exchange ritualistic words or acts, and pass on their way, forgetting the event, this was not so with Jesus. Based on recorded evidence, something memorable always happened when a person met Jesus.
Consider these responses from persons meeting him: "And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him" (Matthew 4:22). "The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come see a man . . . " (John 4:29). "And when they (a crowd) heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, (they) went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last" (John 8:9).
"They took up stones to cast at him" (John 8:59). "The Jews took up stones again to stone him" (John 10:31). "When they heard these things, (they) were filled with wrath" (Luke 4:28). "They were all amazed" (Luke 4:36). "Peter . . . fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him" (Luke 5:8-9). "And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, 'We have seen strange things today' " (Luke 5:26). "They were exceedingly amazed" (Matthew 19:25). "They were astonished at his doctrine" (Matthew 22:33).
Not only were his encounters varied and exciting, they were obviously with all types of people. While many of us limit our meetings to "our own kind"--that is, those who think, look, and act like ourselves, Jesus placed no such restrictions on his encounters. He met all types of people--those of different races, religions, degrees of belief and non-belief, the sick and the well, rich and poor, relatives and strangers, high and low. He met women and men, youth and aged, lawmakers and lawbreakers, drunkards and abstainers, statused-women and prostitutes. He associated with fishermen, tax-collectors, publicans, sinners, self-righteous folk, high priests, rulers, thieves, widows, lawyers, soldiers, governors, and prophets.
There seem to be no bounds on the kinds of persons he was willing to meet. With this much diversity in only 179 recorded encounters, we can only conclude that Jesus would meet anybody. Apparently no human was outside the circle of his interest.
He met people as they were. Someone later observed, "the ground is level at the foot of the cross." So it was in his lifetime also. As though every person were of equal worth, whatever his degree of social, political, physical or monetary status, Jesus met each one on level ground. He never looked up to the high and mighty, or down on the meek and lowly. He saw men as men and women as women--that is, people as persons. After facing, without condemnation, the self-righteous accusers of the woman taken in adultery, he turned to the alleged offender, saying to her also, "Neither do I condemn thee."
We can perceive his open response to all persons in two ways. He accepted people where they were, and he understood. Acceptance is the opposite of judgment. Although others were content to judge and criticize, seeing themselves above, Jesus never succumbed to this common temptation. However a person came to Jesus, he was accepted as one of worth. After the condemning scribes and Pharisees tempted him with the case of the adulterous woman, Jesus responded: "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man" (John 8:15).
Just as he accepted both the accusers and the accused, so he met every other person and group where they were, without judgment. He met and accepted crazy people who thought they had demons. He accepted the Samaritan prostitute with five previous husbands just as willingly as he did Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He accepted his diligent disciples just as he did Judas, already knowing he was to betray him. He accepted lepers who were commonly outcasts. Compulsive Martha and frivolous Mary were equally welcomed. This-worldly Sadducees and other-worldly Pharisees were encountered without prejudice. Even when Jesus knew his questioners were insincere, asking only to trap him, still he met them as they were.
To say that Jesus accepted each one without judgment does not mean that he passively ignored, or was blindly tolerant of each status quo. Certainly he was diligent in using every means at his disposal to effect changes he perceived as needful. Even so, he first accepted each person where that one perceived himself to be. Jesus' help and healing were never forced on anyone. After appearing to heal persons, he reminded them, "Your faith hath made you whole." Both the changes he seemed to make and the advice he gave, followed, rather than preceded, his acceptance. He accepted first and directed later.
Understanding was the second element in his meeting persons where they were. He went beyond mere acceptance and allowing each one to be himself. Perceiving the separate world of each individual, he proceeded to stand-under with them. If we imagine the private concerns of a person to be an umbrella under which he stands alone, we may see Jesus striding boldly, yet gently, to stand-under with him.
Perceiving Nicodemus' concern about salvation, he proceeded to stand with him, speaking honestly about re-birth. With the Samaritan woman he dared stand openly with her shaky marital situation. With the demon-possessed Gadarene, cast out by others, Jesus stood firmly with his emotional disturbance. When Pilate raised the ultimate question, "What is truth?," Jesus did not turn away.
With Martha in her grief, he stood as she faced the empty hope of a "resurrection at the last day." The sick, lame, and blind were encountered at the very point of their illnesses and deficiencies. Even at his most anguishing moment on the cross, he reached out to stand-under with the repentant thief.
After accepting the adulterous woman as a person, he proceeded further by speaking to her obvious need for direction. The rational, this-is-it, Sadducess were honestly encountered at their point of deep uncertainty about resurrection. He stood with lawyers, rationally; with grieving women, emotionally; with hypocrites, honestly; with hungry crowds, providing food. Wherever he met the diverse peoples he encountered, Jesus both accepted and stood-under the burden of their existence with them.
A fourth observation: Jesus met persons in depth. He met them on levels beneath their roles, positions in social life, and even their own conscious intentions. He met behind the masks, facades, and presented exteriors. Jesus responded to the wholeness of the individual, rather than any single aspect. He never reacted to words alone, to only the revealed emotions, or even to the manifest deeds.
Always he seemed to be perceiving the entirety of the person. When a role was used to conceal the deeper person, he overlooked the form. If tears cloaked anger, he ignored the crying. When questions concealed a trap, he responded to the manipulative person. If bad behavior overlay innocency, he easily overlooked the sham. In like manner, he by-passed all invitations to play destructive games.
Devious temptations to encounter dishonestly, with the many available alternatives, were each carefully avoided by Jesus. In colloquial terms, he "really met" people. His encounters were neither ritualistic or casual. He took each person seriously, even when the person did not. Perhaps the phrase, "authentic encounter" can convey the depth of his meetings. Whereas many meet in phony ways, each of Jesus' encounters was an authentic meeting, person to person.
Note the obvious depth in the following typical examples. When Nicodemus tempted him to play verbal games, Jesus cut immediately to the heart of the issue: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). The encounter with the Samaritan woman began with a simple request for a drink of water. One exchange later they had dropped this surface issue and were discussing the most significant of all subjects, the water of life.
Unquestionably he met Nathaniel on a profound level. Even without an introduction, Jesus revealed his knowledge of Nathaniel's nature. Nathaniel asked a single question, "Where do you know me from?," and after Jesus answered, he declared, "You are the son of God." Andrew was so impressed in his first brief encounter that he left the prophet John, whose disciple he had been, to follow Jesus. Immediately he brought his brother, Simon, to him also. In this first meeting, Jesus dared to rename Simon, probably more in line with his true character. Simon, with his new name, Peter, apparently followed at once.
With no introduction, "straightway he called" James and John from their father's fishing boat. Immediately they "left their father . . . and went after him" (Mark 1:20).
Speaking through the level of physical illness, he said to one sick of the palsy, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Demon possession, a socially accepted manner of describing a condition more likely to be called mental illness today, was also encountered in depth. One man, so possessed that he lived naked among the tombs and so wild that he could not be bound or tamed, met Jesus. Although he ran to Jesus, asking a crazy question, his surface manner was ignored. Going straight to the heart of the man, Jesus spoke to his demonic condition.
When one came with an academic question about how many people are saved, Jesus responded to the deeper question of the heart with an instruction for that individual's salvation (Luke 13:23). When a Greek woman came to see him about her daughter (a common occurrence with counselors today), Jesus obviously responded in depth. Said he, "Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs" (Mark 7:27). Whatever he meant, he certainly was speaking about a deeper issue than the presented concern.
He shifted from surface content to depth in each of these conversational encounters. When his disciples asked why the scribes say "that Elias must come first?" (before the parousia), he replied, "I say unto you that Elias is come already" (Matthew 17:10-12). When Martha was speaking of the "resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24-25), he shifted to depth and spoke of present tense resurrection. Peter asked a literal question concerning forgiveness. "How often should I forgive one?" Jesus responded figuratively with a depth answer, proceeding to explain with a story. When certain Jews asked pointedly if he were the Christ, he spoke in depth, raising the pertinent question of their own discipleship.
A fifth observation is that Jesus always met others responsibly. Responsibility has two elements. First is the respond-ability of the one who would meet, his ability-to-respond as a separate human being--to be sensually, emotionally, and rationally alert at the time. This first element is entirely personal, having nothing to do with the other party or the situation at hand. Ability-to-respond is the capacity to be fully present as a person--seeing and hearing what is going on, responding emotionally with one's private feelings in reaction to what is sensed, and then being reasonable both with sensations and emotions. This element may be summarized as the activated capacity to be totally alert through one's basic human abilities. It requires that an individual be a separate one, independent, and maintaining his personal integrity. When one is dependent, leaning on, using or being used by the other party, he loses his integrity and hence his response-ability.
The second element in responsibility is acting responsibly with the other person in the immediate situation. Just as one carefully maintains his own integrity, so as to remain able-to-respond, so he functions with the other party in a manner which promotes his integrity also. With his own responses--sensual, emotional, and rational--fully in-mind, the responsible person carefully assesses the outer situation, including circumstances and the present state of the other person. He weighs (uses his reasonable mind) such factors as the current level of awareness and experience of the second party, what he deducts the person can and cannot tolerate, what the immediate situation allows, and the probable consequences of any particular word or deed at the time.
With this information in mind, he proceeds along that course which best represents his own desires (as realized in the activation of the first element, his response-ability), plus his tentative conclusions regarding the positive maintenance of the integrity of the other. He then does or says what seems most likely to represent himself and promote the wholeness of the second party.
This second element in responsibility is akin to the traditional idea of duty, fairness, or doing what's right. The responsible person freely accepts an overall responsibility for the best long-range interest of the other person, as well as himself.
He never functions in a way likely to hurt, injure, or destroy the integrity of the other. Force, manipulation, or use of a person is strictly forbidden, since each is likely to damage the other's wholeness. A responsible person, activating this second element, never takes advantage of another. He is extremely careful about telling or doing things for someone, because of the risks of reduced integrity through dependency. Of course he avoids leaning on the person for the same reason.
His goal, in each particular decision regarding what to say or do, is to leave the person with an expanded, or at least equal, amount of integrity after the event is over. From the wealth of possible verbal responses he chooses the one most fitted to these goals. If silence is more appropriate, he remains quiet. If an act seems feasible, he moves accordingly. Encounter games, such as winning-losing or one-upsmanship, likely to negate rather than enhance integrity, are carefully avoided.
Responsibility is not complete until both elements are activated. Individual response without consideration of the rights of the other becomes selfish indulgence, often destructive for both parties. Duty without heart becomes a compulsive ritual, often leaving self-righteous but spiritually dead persons behind.
With these elements in mind, let us proceed to examine Jesus' responsibility in his encounters. First consider his personal ability to respond internally to each situation. The evidence is that he continually did so. Obviously he sensed well. In the midst of a crowd he saw and responded to the diminutive Zacchaeus perched in a sycamore tree. When throngs were pressing in on him, he sensed the single touch of a woman of faith. When Mary anointed his feet with ointment, wasting money in Judas' opinion, Jesus was sensitive to both the feelings of Mary and the thoughts of Judas.
His mental alertness is repeatedly noted. Matthew records that when one group tempted him, he "knew their thoughts" (12:25). On another occasion when the scribes were talking among themselves, "Jesus, knowing their thoughts said, wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?" (9:4). Again, "Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25). The sharpness of his responses on every occasion further testifies to the continual use of his mind. His memory was clear, as shown in his recall of the Hebrew scriptures. His reasoning ability was superb, as revealed in his counter responses to the logical traps of the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, high priests, and rulers. Without question, he was a sharp thinker.
Nor were his responses limited to senses and mind only. He was also an emotional man. Seeing Mary weeping, "he groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (John 11:32). With the crying Jews, "Jesus wept" (11:35). He could look out over an entire city and "be moved with compassion for them" (Matthew 9:36), or "weep over" the city (Luke 19:41). Seeing the "hardness of heart" of those in the synagogue, he responded "with anger" (Mark 3:5).
When the behavior of his disciples was not to his satisfaction "he was much displeased" (Mark 10:14). In his difficult hour in Gethsemane he said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38). When his disciples went to sleep while waiting on him, he responded with obvious feeling, "Couldest not thou watch one hour?" (Mark 14:37). In that trying moment when he was most aware of being alone he cried out, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (27:46). Obviously
he was a man who felt deeply. His respond-ability--sensually, mentally, and emotionally--is evident.
His encounters also reveal the second element in responsibility. He always spoke and acted in ways likely to enhance the integrity of the other party. As already noted in his depth responses, he repeatedly spoke through the casual subjects introduced by others, answering, instead, the deeper questions of the heart. Even when they persisted in various manipulative procedures, trying to divert his attention from their real needs, he steadfastly refused to play verbal games.
As is common, people often tried to tell Jesus what to do. Outer-direction, when contrary to spirit, always denies integrity. Jesus carefully avoided the pitfall. When the Pharisees told him to "rebuke" his disciples (Luke 19:39-40), he alertly avoided their direction, handing instead a pearl of insight to those who would mind his business for him. When Martha and Mary sent word that his friend Lazarus was sick, implying he should come immediately, "he abode 2 days still in the same place where he was" (John 11:6).
When his brothers attempted to thrust him into the public limelight, he read through their projection. Instead of going to the feast of tabernacles as they had directed, he said, "My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready." Instead of acting out their projection, an act which would have both denied his integrity and diminished theirs also, he protected himself, letting them know he would move at his own time rather than at their direction.
After being responsible for himself, he spoke pointedly to their projection, reminding them that the true subject, their time, was always present. In their directive to Jesus, "It is time for you to show yourself," they had cleverly concealed the true question concerning when they should be revealed. Had Jesus irresponsibly fallen for this ruse by assuming that they were actually talking about his time instead of their own, he might have gone to the feast. To show himself at their command, rather then when he was ready, would be self-destructive.
Each man must reveal himself at his own time, else he lose integrity in the process. Obviously Jesus knew this. After successfully remaining true to himself, he turned his attention to their state of readiness. Realizing that they were the ones thinking about revelation even though using the subject of his revelation, he was aware of their personal confession. By implication he said responsibly, "I am aware that you brothers are considering showing yourselves. Even though you speak about me, I know you are revealing yourselves. Since you are obviously thinking about being more open in the world, I remind you, 'Your time is always now.' " In other words, "Go ahead and do it. If you're thinking about revealing yourselves, now is the time."
On another occasion people told him about Pilate having some Galileans killed. Apparently they were raising a question about the sinfulness of these persons as justification for their deaths. Jesus could have taken this for an academic, theological subject and proceeded to discuss the guilt or innocence of people in general or the Galilaeans in particular. However, to do so would have been to fall for the content of the discussion, missing the personal implication of the speakers.
Jesus, in his responsible way, refused to be diverted by their distant subject--those other people. Instead he spoke pointedly to the true subject of their own guilt, saying, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-3). By implication he said, "I realize you would prefer to avoid your own guilt by discussing that of others. Even so, for sake of your own integrity, I recommend that you direct your attention toward changing yourselves, instead of thinking about others."
As a responsible person, he alertly avoided any possible loss of his own integrity through being diverted into a distant subject. Such academic games seldom enhance integrity. Most often they become arguments. Assuming responsibility for their projection, he responded in a way likely to promote their wholeness.
Once he said to his disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." They replied, "The Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?" In effect, he said, "Let us go." They answered, "Are you crazy? Those people tried to kill you the last time. Surely you aren't going back!"
Again, a diversion is presented. Instead of guarding his integrity by moving as he chose, Jesus could have been diverted by his disciples' projected fears. Responsibly, however, he remained true both to himself and them. Cryptically he reminded them that one must walk in the day while he can see, because in the night man stumbles. The implication is: "You may proceed, even with your fears, to walk by your own lights. If you let the actions of others force you to walk in your darkness, you are apt to fall." In other words, it is better to move with integrity, even when there is danger, than to be diverted from your own light.
Accordingly they proceeded to Judea. Once there, in an encounter with Martha, Jesus faced the same temptation. He had told them to take away the stone covering the entrance to the tomb of Lazarus. Martha protested, "You better not do that. Being dead four days, he is stinking by now." Had Jesus been irresponsible, he could easily have been divertedby logical Martha. Instead, he proceeded, guarding his own integrity, and seeking to enhance Martha's unity also.
Rather than arguing with her or presenting other information, he spoke to her more personal concern (as revealed in a previous encounter). In effect, he replied, "Martha, I realize your compulsion for order and cleanliness. To be sure, believing is a more difficult matter. Even so, I think you can do it. In fact, if you do believe, you can see the glory of God" (John 11:39-40).
Although Jesus' public ministry was filled with events of service to his fellow man, strangely, he seldom did anything for a person which the person might do for himself. Nor did he do the things which others told him to do. When the apostles asked him to give them more faith, he only spoke of the small amount they had (Luke 17:5-6). Philip wanted to be shown God. Jesus questioned him about his belief. When his disciples told him to send the crowds away so they could go find food, Jesus commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass" (Mark 6:39). Often the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to entice him to show them "a sign from heaven" (Matthew 16:1). Never did he succumb.
The Pharisees instructed him to rebuke his followers, apparently for the loud noise they were making. Jesus refused. His brothers and mother once came to the place where he was teaching, "and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him" (Mark 3:31). He continued with his teaching.
I conclude that Jesus carefully guarded against direction by others. He was strictly an inner-directed or spirit-led man.
In his responses Jesus used all forms of communication, verbal and non-verbal. Aside from the many exchanges of words, he often responded with deeds or silence. Sometimes he simply left them standing. When one group asked him why "the Son of man must be lifted up?," he made a cryptic verbal response about believing in the light "and departed, and did hide himself from them" (John 12:34-36).
A leper came "beseeching him, and kneeling down to him. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him" (Mark 1:41). Once when his disciples became afraid during a storm "they awake him and said unto him, Master, carest thou not we perish?" (Mark 4:38). Instead of talking to calm them, he "rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still" (Mark 4:39).
Friends brought a blind man to him. Instead of speaking, "he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town" (Mark 8:23). At his transfiguration, the disciples "fell on their face and were sore afraid." Before speaking, "Jesus came and touched them" (Matthew 17:6-7).
On one occasion the Pharisees and scribes attempted to trap him on a legal interpretation. Without speaking, "Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not" (John 8:6). During Jesus' pre-trial investigation, Caiaphas, the high priest, demanded an answer to the accusations lodged against him. "But Jesus held his peace" (Matthew 26:63). Herod "questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing" (Luke 23:9). As events progressed, Jesus was again sent to Pilate, who by now "was the more afraid." He called Jesus into the judgment hall to question him, "But Jesus gave him no answer" (John 19:8-9). The non-verbal communication of silence was common in Jesus' responses to others.
Perhaps the best summary of Jesus' personal encounters is revealed in the message he gave when sending out his apostles. His directions to them beautifully describe his own experience. Said he, "I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues" (Matthew 10:16-17).
He told them what he had learned. A modern translation of the directive might read: "People are often hostile and destructive. Unless you are careful, they will do you in. As I send you out among them, be wary, yet innocent." Jesus had learned this the hard way, by personal experience. Unlike many others who learn the same lesson, he had proceeded to embrace the second element of responsibility. He not only knew what people were like, he also cared for them. Thus he added the second part of the directive. Be wary (first), but also be innocent ("without falsity"--Wycliffe). If one goes forth caring, he must first be on guard lest he be destroyed in his vulnerability. If, however, he would become fully responsible, he will proceed as a sincere individual--honest, without deception, "innocent."
Both directives are essential for a responsible person. Wariness (on-guard), without innocence leads to isolation and self-destruction. Innocence without wariness leads to danger and destruction from without. Jesus personified both. I know of no man whose public record evidences more wariness with people, more personal innocency, or as artful a combination of the two. Innocently he associated with all types of people. Like a babe in the woods he strided openly into the presence of the wolves saying, "Hi there," accepting them as they were, and even standing-under with them.
At the same time, he was wise as a serpent, always looking the gift horse in the mouth, never falling for their ruses, games, and projections. Like an artist he merged the contradictions of wariness and innocence into a beautiful whole in each specific encounter. For those accustomed to just meeting, he demonstrated the apex of human experience: the authentic encounter.
HOW HE LISTENED
By definition, listening is hearing sounds which strike the ear drum. To listen to a person is to hear the words which he says. If one understands, he grasps the dictionary definitions of the words and is able to make sense of the expression, sentence, or idea. Jesus listened accordingly, but went much further. While hearing words and grasping meanings, he proceeded to a deeper understanding of the person saying the words. He heard words, but listened through what he heard with his physical ears.
While others may listen to words alone, Jesus listened through words for the person speaking. The words which one says may or may not be an accurate expression of who he is. Although one can use words to truthfully speak himself, he can also lie, consciously and unconsciously. Words, theoretically designed to reveal, can be artfully used to conceal. In either case, the words are not the person. Jesus listened for persons. He apparently never settled for hearing words alone.
To listen for a person means to listen to the wholeness of the individual. He may be revealed in his literal words, or hidden behind them. His silences may speak more eloquently than all his language. Often his actions speak louder than his words. The wholeness of the individual is the core of integrity from which all his expressions emanate. It is who he is, behind all the facades he may present, both to himself and others. Just as man can consciously attempt to deceive others by misrepresenting the truth he knows, so he can unconsciously fool himself by refusing to face the truth of who he honestly is.
When Jesus encountered a person he must have realized that although some honestly express themselves in their literal words, many others use language to hide behind while attempting to manipulate a listener. Even though Freud had not yet discovered the human unconscious, Jesus apparently knew about it. Realizing that unconscious deception is even more dangerous to the integrity of an individual than is chosen lies, he carefully listened through this barrier also. Often he knew what men were really talking about, even when they did not. Luke described this unconscious thinking as the "thought of the heart." Jesus knew "the hearts" of men (Acts 1:24).
Out of his profound awareness of the meaning of persons, Jesus focused his listening ear on who a speaker truly was. He heard through the various forms of expression and concealment, both verbal and non-verbal, and responded to the deeper person. On the rare occasions when he perceived words to be an honest expression of the person, he responded to what was said. More often he apparently recognized the deceptive nature of the spoken words, choosing to ignore them, or after a passing comment, to reply to the deeper message of the heart.
For example, when a nobleman "besought him that he would come down, and heal his son" (John 4:47-48), Jesus completely ignored the content of his request. Instead he responded to the person of the nobleman. While the man was consciously concerned about his son, Jesus must have recognized that the deeper issue was his own belief. Said Jesus, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe."
When Simon was wondering how Jesus, if he were a prophet, could allow a prostitute to touch him, Jesus ignored his conscious question, moving directly to the subject of Simon's own guilt.
Often he made a passing reference to the overt subject, but soon proceeded to deeper matters. Once the disciples, seeing a man blind since birth, asked about the relationship between sin and sickness. Who sinned?, they asked, "this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Jesus said, "Neither," before speaking further on a more significant matter. While ignoring the weight of their question, he briefly referred to it before giving his pertinent response.
When a man eating with Jesus said, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God," Jesus made passing reference to the man's comment by telling a story about a great supper. The point, however, was about making excuses. He referred, almost incidentally, to the man's subject, before dealing with the deeper matter of the man's heart (Luke 14:15-23).
The Pharisees once demanded to know "when the kingdom of God should come?" (Luke 17:20). He referred to their question in a negative sense by saying, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation." Immediately, however, he went on to give his more pertinent message, namely, "The kingdom of God is within you." Although his final response was out of line with their literal question (they asked about time), he acknowledged their subject before revealing a deeper truth.
On one occasion James and John asked Jesus if he wanted them to have some Samaritans killed. Their own self-righteousness must have been so evident that he completely ignored this question, rebuking them instead. Cutting to the heart of the issue,
he said his purpose was not "to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:54-56).
HOW HE RESPONDED TO CRITICISM AND COMPLIMENTS
Two common forms of communication are criticism and compliments. Criticism is negative expression; compliments are positive. On the surface each seems to be about the person being attacked or praised. Hearers often fall for each, feeling hurt or put down by the negative and flattered or built up by the positive. In either case the receiver is shifted from his primary position--downward or upward. He is thrown off. His integrity or sense of inner wholeness is unjustly deflated or falsely expanded when he falls for a criticism or compliment.
Because of these possibilities, any negative or positive expression about the listener is a critical juncture in an encounter. When one is moved, down or up, from his actual position, he is thereafter unsteady or off balance. If the movement is upward because of a compliment, he may enjoy the sensation, but the danger is no less real. Criticism and compliments may be properly classified as potential set-ups. They invite the loss of integrity.
Jesus received his share of each. How did he respond?
Some Pharisees and Herodians attempted to set him up with this compliment: "Teacher we know that you are sincere and what you profess to be; that you cannot lie and that you have no personal bias for any one; for you are not influenced by partiality and have no regard for anyone's external condition or position, but on the basis of truth you teach the way of God" (Mark 12:14 Amp.).
After this flowery introduction, they proceeded to ask the trick question, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?" Was Jesus set-up by the compliment? Mark records: "But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me?" (12:15). Obviously he kept his integrity intact.
When Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, approached him with this compliment, "Rabbi, we know thou art a teacher come from God" (John 3:2), Jesus completely ignored the gracious introduction. On another occasion a ruler called him "good Master." Jesus confronted the compliment directly: "Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, that is God" (Luke 18:18-19).
When a Samaritan woman prefaced her loaded question with the compliment, "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet," Jesus ignored it (John 4:19). A demon-possessed Gadarene fell down at Jesus feet, worshipping him, calling him, "thou Son of
God most high." Ignoring the adoration, Jesus simply said, "What is thy name?" (Luke 8:28-30).
A woman gave an indirect compliment, via his mother. "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts that you sucked" (Luke 11:27 Amp.). Even this oblique flattery was turned aside with the comment, "Blessed rather are they who hear the word of God and obey and practice it!"
When one gave the indirect compliment of implying that Jesus was an elevated judge, he replied, "Man, who made me a judge . . . over you?" (Luke 12:13-14). After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary met Jesus. "And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him." Jesus simply said, "Be not afraid" (Matt 28:9-10).
Although Jesus was well complimented, he had much criticism also. Often he was accused of blasphemy, an extremely serious religious offense in his day. In fact, this charge became the legal basis for his crucifixion. Perhaps because it was a charge which would subject him to being stoned at any time, Jesus often confronted this criticism directly. When a group of Jews so accused him, he used their sacred scriptures to present a logical refutation (John 10:33-36). He asked another group of accusers why they thought such things (Mark 2:8).
Grumbling, fault-finding, or murmuring was another common form of criticism which Jesus faced. To a group of Jews who "murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven," Jesus responded, "Murmur not among yourselves," and proceeded immediately to teach a significant truth. When his disciples "murmured at" something he said, Jesus replied, "Doth this offend you?," and continued with a pertinent truth concerning the source of life (John 6:61-63).
After a particularly disturbing message, "Peter took him, and began to rebuke him" (Mark 8:32). Jesus responded, "Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men." The implication is twofold: By referring to Satan, Jesus confronted Peter's criticism in a manner which would invite responsibility, yet leave him room to save face. Jesus said, in effect, "I realize that this is the evil in you, rather than you yourself." The second implication is more personal. "Get thee behind me, Satan," implies that Jesus himself was tempted to fall for this criticism. Perhaps his statement, "You are more concerned about the things of men than the things of God," is also a projection reinforcing Jesus' own direction.
When a lawyer accused him of slander, saying, "You reproach and outrage and affront even us" (Luke 11:45 Amp.), Jesus did not flinch or defend himself. Instead he proceeded to amplify the previous message which had obviously offended the lawyer. "Woe to you, the lawyers, also!" was his beginning.
A leader of the synagogue became indignant because Jesus had broken one of their laws by working (healing) on the Sabbath. Jesus replied, "You play-actors--hypocrites; does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead it out to water it?" (Luke 13:15). Without falling for the leader's projected anger, Jesus humorously confronted him with his own irrationality. In effect he said, "You must be putting me on," or, "Come on, now, you're playing with me. You work on the Sabbath too."
When the Pharisees and scribes murmured against him for associating with the wrong kind of people ("receiving and eating with sinners"), Jesus ignored their criticism and proceeded to tell a story about a man who had 100 sheep, yet was concerned about a lost one.
Again, "the Pharisees . . . began to sneer and ridicule and scoff at him" (Luke 16:14 Amp.). Instead of taking offense, Jesus apparently listened through their criticism, heard it as a projection of their own self-righteousness, and replied, "You are they who declare yourselves just and up-right before men, but God knows your hearts."
Once Judas complained because Mary had wasted money on ointment for Jesus' feet. Jesus replied, "Let her alone . . . For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always" (John 12:7-8).
What conclusions can we draw from Jesus' varied responses to compliments and criticism? First, he never fell for either. He was neither set up by flattery nor put down by their rejections. Apparently he always listened through each such comment, hearing the confession of the speaker rather than the mere content of the message.
Nor was he diverted from his chosen course by these tempting offerings from others. Each time he carefully side-stepped the challenge to fight or defend himself against criticism. His refusals to argue were obviously not the acts of a coward, afraid to face a confrontation. Sometimes he proceeded even further into a subject which had already offended them. Often he noted their objections, but continued to clarify the point he was making.
Flattery was most often ignored. When directly confronted, as in the "good Master" encounter, Jesus simply refused to accept it. He used the compliment to raise a personal issue with the ruler, as well as make a statement about God.
HOW HE ANSWERED QUESTIONS
"And he questioned him in many words" (Luke 23:9)." . . , and they marvelled at his answer" (Luke 20:26). ". . . they durst not any more ask him any questions" (Luke 20:40).
A question is one of the most common forms of human encounter. From, "How are you?," to, "What should I do?," questions run the gamut from casual greeting to ultimate asking. No person can long encounter others without facing the reality of questions--either asking or answering, and most often both. How should one respond to questions? Answer straight? Ignore them? Listen for deeper meanings?
In seeking an answer in the example of Jesus, we find approximately 80 instances of questions asked of him. Analyzing these questions, we can categorize them as follows: 1. Why? (12), 2. Who? (10), 3. What? (10), 4. How? (8), 5. Where? (Whence and Whither) (8), 6. When? (3), 7. Miscellaneous (Are? Is it?, etc.) (29).
Samples of each type:
1. "Why do the disciples of John . . . fast, but thy disciples do not?" (Mark 2:18-20). "Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?" (Luke 5:30).
2. "Who are thou?" (John 8:25). "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29).
3. "What shall we do . . . ?" (John 6:28). "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18).
4. "How can a man be born when he is old?" (John 5:3). "How is it that thou, being a Jew askest drink of me . . . ?" (4:9).
5. "Where dwellest thou?" (John 1:38). "Where is thy Father?" (8:19).
6. "When shall these things be?" (Matthew 24:3). "When camest thou hither?" (John 6:25).
7. "Carest thou not that we perish?" (Mark 4:38). "Art thou greater than our father Abraham?" (John 8:53).
An analysis of Jesus' responses to these 80 questions reveals seven types of answers:
1. Straight answer - a literal answer to the content of the question. Example: "Which is the great commandment?" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God . . . "(Matthew 22:36-38).
2 Answer with question - a question is given in response to a question. Example: Nicodemus: "How can these things be?" Jesus: "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" (John 3:9-10).
3. Depth answer - a response to the probable meaning of the question, rather than the question itself. Example: "Where is thy Father?" Jesus: "Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if you had known me, ye should have known my Father also" (John 8:19).
4. Indirect answer - response partially related to literal question. Example: "Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?" Jesus: "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick" (Luke 5:30-32).
5. Story answer - responds by telling a story. Example: Lawyer: "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus: Story of good Samaritan (Luke 10:29).
6. Action answer - responds by doing something or directing asker to do something. Example: "Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose and rebuked the wind" (Mark 4:38-39).
7. No answer - question is received without verbal response. Example: "What is it which these witness against thee? But he held his peace and answered nothing" (Mark 14:60-62).
Grouping his various types of responses, these percentages may be noted:
1.Fifty percent of his responses to questions were depth answers.
2. Twenty-five percent of the time he answered a question with a question.
3. Indirect responses account for another 15%.
4. Stories and actions are given in response to 7% of the questions asked of him.
5. Three times he did not answer.
6. Only once did he give a straight answer to the content of a question, without following in a deeper way.
What can we deduct from this analysis? First, we may observe that Jesus faced and responded to a wide spectrum of questions, varying from the casual,"Where are you from?" (John 1:38), to the complex, "How can I be saved?" (Luke 18:18). We may thus assume a representative sampling of the kinds of questions commonly asked.
Several conclusions are possible. We might deduct that Jesus was a smart-aleck, since he almost never gave a straight answer to a direct question. However, if we assume that he answered as a spiritually responsive person, we come to an entirely different conclusion. As a caring person, he must have responded in the context of love, saying that which would relate to the deepest needs of the asker in the most appropriate manner. Even though he often appeared rude, evasive, and unconcerned, we shall explore the premise that he responded exactly as a loving person would in each situation.
But how are we to understand Jesus as revealed in this statistical comparison? Three conclusions seem warranted. First, Jesus always responded to persons rather than to questions only. Instead of listening simply to words, as though they were written or anonymously spoken, he listened through words and for the person speaking. He apparently listened for the person revealed in the question, rather than to the dictionary meaning of the words alone.
For example, when someone asked, "Are there few that be saved?," Jesus replied, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:23-24). On the surface he appears to ignore the question. A literal answer would have been either, "Yes, very few," or, "No, very many." Instead, Jesus apparently listened through the words of the question to discern the individual asking. He must have heard the personal projection into the seemingly academic question, namely, "Can I be saved?" To this, Jesus responded, in effect, "Yes, if you work at it." His answer implies: "Even though the way is narrow, you can enter the kingdom." He responded to the person speaking to him at the moment, rather than to the question only. A study of the 80 recorded responses he made to questions allows the conclusion that he did this in every instance.
A second conclusion is that Jesus was always willing to risk the anger of the asker. Since questions are often manipulative, designed to direct, trick, or manage the answerer in some way, one who refuses to fall for the device risks the negative response of the asker. Jesus always took this chance. Often he received positive response ("As he spake these words, many believed on him" (John 8:30); but on many occasions his refusal to be manipulated by questions brought a hostile response. After one series of such questions and answers, the Jews "took up stones to cast at him" (John 8:59). Another time they became so angry that "they rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong" (Luke 4:29).
Assuming the context of love, we conclude that Jesus cared enough to continually respond honestly to persons rather than questions alone, even at the risk of negative reactions.
A third deduction is that his listeners also heard him on the deeper level at which he spoke in response to their questions. Simple answers to literal questions seldom evoke strong or lasting response. If someone asks, "Who are you?," and one replies literally, "I am John Doe," the exchange of information tends to pass like a wave on the shore, leaving no mark. However, if one listens through such a question, hearing the asker's uncertainty of his own authenticity projected onto the potential answerer, one might respond as did Jesus: "I am exactly what I have been telling you . . . I have much to say about you" (John 8:25-26 Amp.). In so doing, he declared his personal integrity, and his knowledge about the asker's own authenticity. His response obviously left its mark not only on his immediate hearers, but on generations after them.
Each of Jesus' responses to questions evidences this same profound effect. If his hearers were able to receive his personal messages, they responded positively. Apparently Nathaniel gave up his profession to follow Jesus after one brief question-andanswer session. On other occasions, when listeners could not tolerate the personal message of their own reactions to his refusal to fall for their manipulative questions, they were strongly negative.
In either case they were deeply affected by Jesus' poignant responses to their questions. The relevancy of his approach is further confirmed by the judgment of history. For nearly 2,000 years his provocative responses have continued to haunt serious askers of all ages. The Palestinians seem to have asked the questions of most men; Jesus apparently responds to us all in his answers to them.
APPLICATION TO US
How can we apply Jesus' experiences in encounter to our lives? What deductions or projections can be made applicable to us? What lessons can we learn? If we follow the example of Jesus, we will:
1. Be willing to meet all kinds of people.
2. Meet them where they are, accepting and standing-under with them.
3. Meet in depth.
4. Meet responsibly - both responding, and being responsible with the other.
5. Be spirit-led rather than people-directed.
6. Use all forms of communication.
7. Be wary but innocent.
8. Listen through all communication, responding to persons rather than information only.
First, the common habit of limiting oneself to encounters with a small range of people will be dropped. No person was outside the circle of Jesus' interest. If we follow him, we will extend the range of our concern to include persons from every walk and stage of life.
Racial, social, religious, and economic prejudices will all be laid aside. Color barriers will be overlooked, class distinctions dropped. Religious and denominational walls will be taken down. Wealth and possessions, or their lack, will no longer be used as a basis for classifying those to be encountered on equal ground. Garbage men and governors, maids and matrons, children and teachers, will be met with equal openness and respect.
Nor will they be met with either adoration or condemnation. Jesus looked out to people, never up to or down on anyone. He did not judge. Following him, we will abandon the common human habit of categorizing people as good or bad, right or wrong. People will be seen as persons, rather than prospects; as men and women, rather than potential converts.
If we assume the mystery of every person, we who attempt to follow Jesus will risk meeting in the presence of the mystery rather than attempting to eliminate it through classification or judgment. Whatever behavior or language we encounter, like Jesus we will say, "Neither do I condemn you." In like manner, we will carefully avoid enthroning others by judging them to be good, better, or right.
In the absence of judgment, either condemnation or praise, we will accept each person, allowing him to be himself. Furthermore, we will let each one be the person he perceives himself to be. We will accept each one at face value, that is, in the manner he chooses to present himself. For instance, when people thought they had demons, Jesus accepted them as demon-possessed. This does not mean that he agreed with whatever they thought, but he did meet them on their own chosen level. He did not argue, requiring them to be as he perceived them.
In effect, he always said, "It's okay to be yourself with me." If we follow him, we will communicate our acceptance also, saying to each person through our lack of judgment, "Relax. You need not try to impress or fool me. I will not hurt you. I accept you as you are."
Yet we will not be content to merely allow others to be honest with us. Jesus went the next step. He accepted, but he also stood with them. His was not an isolated, objective, live-and-let live, it's not-my-problem kind of acceptance. After allowing the person to be himself in Jesus' presence, he proceeded to step under the umbrella of the person's concerns and stand with him. He both accepted and cared. Whatever mattered to them mattered to him. He did not avoid the problems of others. Openly he faced, accepted, and encountered them wherever they happened to be in their personal pilgrimages.
If we follow, we will also be willing to stand close to those we accept, to share their concerns, to be with them as they are.
Jesus also met in depth. He accepted people as they presented themselves, but responded to them behind their masks. He dared enter the holy of holies with each one, walking boldly yet gently into the inner chambers of each human heart. We have no record of his ever engaging in social ritual such as, "How are you?" - "Fine, thank
you." When he met, he went behind roles and facades. He met each person in depth.
Using him as an example, we will learn to look beyond the exteriors which are presented to us. Seeing the roles, games, and fronts, and accepting a person's right to present each one, we will continue to discern those hidden aspects of himself. We will carefully avoid being deceived or diverted by images presented. While accepting each person at face value, we will never fall for believing that is all he is. Let others be content with surface meetings, casual acquaintances, or shallow exchanges. If we follow him, we will learn to meet each person in depth.
To choose this path requires that we also learn to meet responsibly, as did he. Depth encounters, entered irresponsibly, can be disastrous. Better to remain shallow than to enter the depths without careful discernment.
Such responsibility has two elements: ability to respond, and choice to handle the consequences. First, we must open ourselves to each person, being willing to see and hear, to respond emotionally, and to think such thoughts as come naturally at the time. We must become pliable rather than rigid. In order to accept the other as a person, we must be willing to respond rather than merely react. Laying aside prejudices and various encounter rituals, we must allow ourselves the inner freedom to perceive the other as an entirely new person. His mystery must be allowed to strike whatever chords it will in our own hearts.
Only through openly responding to a person as fully as possible, do we have the available material to activate the second element in responsibility. From the wealth of our own inner responses--sensations, feelings, and thoughts--we find information needed for responding back to the other. There are no clear-cut answers, no inevitable rights and wrongs, in dealing with people. Each rule is subject to immediate suspension in responsible encounters. It is from the richness of one's own response that one knows the appropriate thing to do in each situation.
If we follow Jesus, we will accept this part of responsibility also. We will always attempt, using our fullest discernment, to speak or act in ways which enhance rather than hurt or destroy the other person. We will take any chance, risking even the rejection of the other, in responding to the depths we have perceived in him. Our constant intention
will be to enhance his integrity, to free him to become himself, to open the door to his becoming his fuller self. Like Jesus, we will stand at the tomb of each fellow man saying in effect, "Lazareth, come forth."
Following Jesus' example, we will shift the focal point of all decisions from outside to inside. We will move as spirit leads, rather than as people direct. The constant question will be, "What will I do?," instead of, "What do they want me to do?" Whenever voices from without tell us what to do, we will carefully listen for the voice of spirit before moving. When they are the same, we may appear to be doing what others wish. When they are in contradiction, we will always follow spirit instead.
As evidenced in Jesus' agony in Gethsemane, discerning the path of spirit may not always be the easy way. Yet if we would learn from him, we too will endure the times of waiting, moving only through inner-direction.
In communicating, many learn only one language, thereafter using it exclusively. Some become the silent type, speaking principally by non-verbal means. Others become talkers, forgetting how to speak with their bodies. With Jesus as an example, we will seek to develop all avenues of communication. We will learn the arts of speaking with words, but also the skills necessary for effective body talk. We will learn to be silent, speaking through what we choose not to say. No avenue of speaking will be foreign to us.
Abandoning naivete, we will learn the wariness necessary for living effectively among our fellow-men. We will discern sharply between what they say and what they do. Without judgment, we will recognize destructive as well as creative urges of man. No longer will we be leaves on the sea, subject to every wind that blows in the tides of encounter. Having accepted the responsibility for being human, we will develop the arts of discernment in meeting every other human.
Yet we will be innocent. Moving through the disillusionment which often accompanies facing the evilness in man, we will return to a sophisticated innocency. Though wary ("wise as serpents"), we will also be innocent ("harmless as doves"). Carefully we will avoid destructive games, ruses, and endeavors which tempt us to abandon humanity. Yet with equal care we will remain sincere, humble, open, and innocent.
This wedding of wariness and innocency will certainly require that we, like Jesus, learn to listen through all communication. No longer will we be free to take deeds and words at face value only. We will become discerning listeners, hearing words, but never stopping with dictionary definitions alone. In each encounter we will be carefully listening for the person who is revealed or concealed by his languages.
Following his example, we will never be set-up by a compliment. Avoiding the temptation to use the favor of others as an excuse for pride, we will listen for the revelation of a speaker in his compliments. Realizing that he is speaking himself, using us for his subject, we will listen for his personal message.
Is he using the device of flattery to shift attention from himself? Is he pleased that we have voiced his thoughts for him? Is he excited in the sensual experiences of meeting another? Does he notice our appearance because he thinks highly of his own? Does our image reflect the secret pride he has in himself? Considering both his body language as well as his words, we will listen for any personal message concealed in every compliment.
Based on Jesus' example, the most appropriate response to compliments will commonly be to ignore them. Perhaps a passing nod of recognition will be the only interruption in the continuation of what we are doing at the time. If pressed to accept a compliment, we may, like Jesus, raise the question of why the speaker chooses to give it.
Likewise, we will carefully avoid falling for criticism. Each offensive remark will he considered as a message from the speaker. Rather than taking it personally, we will listen through the words, attempting to discern the revelation he gives about himself. Even though his words seem to be entirely about ourselves, we will recognize that he uses us as a vehicle for revealing himself. In turn, we will listen back through his words to determine a personal message he gives.
As was true for Jesus, there may he times when accusations need to he confronted. The guideline appears to be: confront a criticism when it could lead to a destructive public result (such as, for Jesus, stoning for blasphemy). Otherwise, the general response will be to ignore the criticism, continuing on our chosen paths.
If we are particularly tempted to fall for criticism, as Jesus seems to have been when Peter "rebuked him," we may confront the temptation openly. However, as did Jesus, we will carefully avoid counter-attacking the other person. Our response will be to openly deal with our own temptation to take it on. Never will we try to kill our attackers in response. Nor will we play the useless game of defending ourselves as though the criticism is actually about us.
In dealing with questions, we may also learn from Jesus' example. Three basic responses are available in each question situation. One may answer the content of the question, keep silent, or respond to the person who is asking.
In the first instance, one hears the words forming the question, considers the dictionary definitions of the words, and gives a literal answer to the question asked. The response would he the same no matter who asked the question, regardless of circumstances, and even if the question were received in writing.
For example, if someone asks, "Where have you been?," the literal answer is a statement of our previous whereabouts. The answer is the same, even if the questioner is anonymous. If Aunt Jane asks, "Why haven't you written me?," the literal answer is a statement of reasons (excuses?). To, "What are you doing Friday night?," one might reply,"I don't have any plans yet." Of course, one can respond to the content of a question with either the truth or a lie.
The second possibility is to ignore the question. One may keep silent, pretending not to hear, or simply choose to say nothing.
Option three, which seems to be Jesus' continual choice, involves a response to the person asking the question, rather than to the question alone.
In any question situation there are two elements: the words of the question and the person who is asking. Although the words are the immediate stimuli, they always come from an asker who is extending himself in some way through the question. The question means something to the asker. Perhaps his personal message will be openly revealed in the content of the question. If a frantic person asks, "Where is the rest room?," his need may be immediately evident.
On the other hand, an asker may be quite hidden behind his question. If someone asks, "What time did you get in last night?," or, "Do you believe in God?," he may have many possible motives in mind. If we follow Jesus in making the third choice, we will keep our focus of attention on the asker, rather than on the content of the question.
We will hear the question, but listen through the words, attempting to discern the person revealed in the question. We will never take a question as though it is merely academic, unrelated to the one asking. Considering the words of the question, as well as the circumstances and the non-verbal communication of the asker, we will respond lovingly to the person asking.
That is, we will respond in a way which we discern to be most positive for the asker, considering our own abilities to reach out at the moment. Perhaps the strongest clues from the asker will come from his tone of voice rather than the words of the question. His demanding tone may convey his desire to manipulate, no matter what the content of the question is. We will then try to respond lovingly to one attempting to manipulate.
Or a person's fear may be evidenced in his facial expression and tone of voice, even as he asks an apparently academic question, such as, "What time is the plane supposed to arrive?" Making this third choice, we will listen through the question, considering the non-verbal information as well, and respond as lovingly as possible to an apparently fearful person.
If an angry person demands, "Why are you late?," we might hear only the question and give five good reasons. Or, we may listen through the question for the person who is asking, and respond appropriately to an angry individual. In the latter case, our answer will probably be quite different from a simple listing of excuses. Instead of giving reasons we might reply, "I regret your having to wait in the hot sun."
In the context of love, two considerations are always necessary: the integrity of the answerer and the well-being of the asker. When one hears a question, he must first consider his own ability to respond without loss of integrity. If the spirit of the answerer is either diminished or destroyed by his response, then the loving relationship suffers or is ended. On the other hand, if the asker is loved, one will respond in such a way as to promote his general well-being. The answer will be designed to encourage his fulfillment, to enhance his spirit, rather than to hurt or hinder him as a person.
In guarding our own integrity or sense of wholeness, we will be careful to avoid manipulation, projection taking on (the feelings of the asker), or giving information which can be personally damaging. One must not fall for any trap or respond in a way which leaves him less than a spirited person for the remainder of the encounter. To sacrifice one's integrity is to destroy the basis for the continuing relationship. Obviously this is an unloving act.
While taking care of ourselves, if we are loving we will be equally attentive to the best long-range interests of the other person. We will carefully avoid answering in a way which might destroy the integrity of the asker also. We will avoid projecting our own emotions, threatening or manipulating the asker, giving information he cannot handle, or inviting dependency or dominance. By every way possible we will attempt to respond so as to enhance the spiritual welfare of the asker. With our answer, we will attempt to build a bridge from where the asker is to where he might be. We will try to open the door to reality and a better life.
How can this be done? Following Jesus' example, we may conclude that depth answers are more appropriate than any other type of response. He used them half the time. With this type of answer, one hears the content of the question, listens through the words for the meaning of the asker, and responds to the person he discerns.
For example, if someone asks, "Do you believe that Lazarus was raised from the dead?," one would listen first to the content of the question. On the surface, the person appears interested in our beliefs. Literally, he requests information about our ideas. If we listen through these words, however, we may hear the voicing of his deeper uncertainty about his own beliefs. What does he truly believe about the Bible? On a still deeper level, we may hear him raising the all-important question,"Is it possible that I may be raised out of this hell in which I now live?"
Following Jesus, we may ignore the content of the question and respond to this common existential wondering. Perhaps we might say, "Yes, I believe that one can be raised to walk in newness of life."
If a child asks, "Is God under my bed?," we can listen to the literal question only. Or we might proceed to listen through it, for the deeper child hidden there. Perhaps through the tone of his voice we will hear his fear of being alone. If so, we might say, responding in depth to a fearful child, "I suspect it does get scary after the lights are out. I'll be in the next room if you need me."
A second choice, after Jesus' example, is to answer a question with a question. He did this one-fourth of the time. This type of response can serve several purposes. It allows for further clarification of the asker's intent; it avoids the trap of manipulative questions; it properly keeps the focus of attention on the asker.
If someone asks me, "How large is your church?," I may attempt to listen through his question. If I hear his curiosity about there being a place for him, I may ask in response, "Are you looking for another church home?"
If one is asked, "Do you think the Bible is true?," he could respond, "Would you care to be more specific?" The general nature of the question could cover so many meanings that one might well need more information before responding in depth.
Jesus' third type of answer was the indirect response (15% of the time). With this procedure one appears to ignore the content of the question, while responding in depth in an oblique way. He answers through a related subject. For example, asked, "Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?," Jesus replied, "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick."
On the surface, the question is about Jesus' motives. He could have given five reasons, explaining himself. Instead he apparently heard on a deeper level. Probably he heard: "Is it possible that you can help us?" Instead of responding directly to this deeper question, he indirectly gave the information they needed. Using the subject of illness and doctors, he let them know: "I could be useful to you, but not until you are willing to admit your own needs."
We might follow this procedure if asked, "What time is the plane supposed to be on the ground?" If we have listened through the words about time, hearing the asker's anxiety about being so long in the air, we might respond in depth indirectly. "I spoke to the pilot before we took off. He seemed to be a very capable person." Without confronting the asker's anxiety directly, we might obliquely reply to it in a supportive way.
Stories and actions become another possible response, following Jesus' example (7% of the time). For instance, if someone asks me, "Who is God?," I might tell the story of Moses' encounter with the burning bush, ending with his concluding awareness: "And God said, I Am Who I Am and I Will Be Who I Will Be." Or I might tell the story of one of my own encounters which occurred on a February night in 1959.
Often, actions are more appropriate than any words. If a child asks, "Is there such a thing as a ghost?," one who cares might simply put his arm around the youngster, saying non-verbally, "I am standing close, because I too know what fear is like."
Another option which Jesus used, might today be called the fifth amendment. There are times in responsible answering when silence is most appropriate. The guidelines might be: be silent when there appears to be no possible answer which can adequately speak to the immediate situation. The nature of certain questions presents a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" trap. Rather than incriminating oneself, which could hardly be a service to the other, better to be quiet. Also, there are times when silence eloquently speaks to the asker's prior knowledge. Leaving a questioner with a question, which he already has answered, is usually better than saying anything.
For example, if someone who knows where you have been demands an answer to, "Where have you been?" (not really a question), a caring person might choose to remain silent. In this way, he avoids the trap and responsibly says by his silence, "I respect your own awareness."
Verbal answers to such weighty questions as Pilate's, "What is truth?" are notably useless. Following Jesus, we too may choose to be silent at such times.
Finally, a direct answer is the most common response to all questions. Because it requires listening only to words, it is also the easiest response. If someone asks, "What is your name?," the most simple answer is to tell him what your parents called you. So, it is with all other questions.
Unfortunately, the easy way is not the way Jesus chose. In only one recorded instance did he give a literal answer to the content of a question, leaving it at that. If we follow him, we must conclude that literal answers are almost never appropriate in a responsible encounter. If we wish to relate to persons rather than words, we must listen through the latter to discern the former.
No dimension of living in harmony with others offers so many challenges as encountering creatively rather than destructively. How-to-do-it books flood the market today. Still we know so little. Perhaps the messages of the encounters of Jesus are yet needed.
In an age when valid examples of how to live are notably absent, when many can tell us how but few can say follow me, the image of Jesus achieves an abiding relevance. Though lost for many under the suffocating accretions of historical Christianity and dimmed for others by former portraits made unreasonable by historical discoveries, still the facets of this enigmatic Jew shine through the fogs of time, illuminating the human condition twenty centuries later.
As we face our common personal temptations and the problems of living with others, we may observe the lesson of this obscure man whose life can still reflect the human challenges with brilliant clarity. In his private struggles we can objectively view our own. If he was able to overcome them in such gigantic proportions, certainly we too can take heart.
Engaged in the demanding drama of relating to others in a complex society, we may still learn from the example of this ageless man from long ago. He encountered lovingly.
I believe that he is a man for all time.
BACK TO HOME PAGE