The gospels spread best not through force but through fascination. Jesus doesn't insist on who he is or isn't. When people asked Jesus, "Are you the Messiah?" he would answer "Tell me what you see, what you hear."
Jesus never answered a whole lot of questions in the gospels. I am told, for example, that Jesus only directly answers 3 of the 183 questions that he himself is asked in the four Gospels! This is totally surprising to people who have grown up assuming that the very job description of religion is to give people answers and to resolve peoples' dilemmas. Apparently this is not Jesus' understanding of the function of religion because he operates very differently.
Jesus' parables are to re-position you, make you own your unconscious biases, break you out of your dualistic mind, challenge your image of God or the world, or present new creative possibilities. He himself does not usually wait for or expect specific answers. He hopes to awaken redemptive imagination. He wants to be in relationship with a person, he fascinates us with the beauty and reality of the kingdom, to see infinite hope, and new possibilities. Thus his parables are worth examining because they, reveal his basic style of encounter with the soul, or what we would call today, his style of "evangelizing". Maybe, instead of evangelizing, we should engage more in conversations of fascination.
Instead, Jesus asks questions, good questions, unnerving questions, re-aligning questions, transforming questions. He leads us into liminal, and therefore trans-formative space. He leaves us betwixt and between, where God and grace can get at us, and where we are not at all in control.
You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. ( Eugene Peterson's, The Message, Matthew's Gospel Chapter 5 )
That short circuits the neurons in our brains, where is the sense of fairness, where is the justice? Love you friends, and, your enemies. Pray your enemies would be blessed. God gives his best, sun to warm, and rain to nourish, not just on the good, but...the bad and nasty also. That, should fascinate us, it should blow our minds, transforming it, into the mind of Jesus.
We made of Jesus a systematic theologian, who walked around teaching dogmas, instead of a pilgrim and engaging transformer of the soul, whose divine imagination excites us. Easy answers instead of hard questions allow us to try to change others instead of allowing God to change us.
One of my favorite stories in the gospels come from John's account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. This is the longest conversation that Jesus has with any one person in all of the gospels. Through the fascination of " Living Water ", Jesus has captured the imagination of this woman, she begins to thirst for something beyond, to a source of such beauty that can't be described. She, is like so many who struggle to find identity in their culture, and then add to the mix, a painful past. Jesus weakens her grip on to what she has come to identify herself with, and opens her up to an identity with infinite hope and possibility.
Interesting earlier, I was talking about dualistic thinking, the idea of polarity, right or wrong. In this place, this space Jesus has brought her to, she asks the question...the " God " question. Are the Samaritan's right, or are the Jews right.
But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. ( Eugene Peterson, The Message )
Earlier in the conversation, it was God, suddenly it is Father. Surely, that profound word didn't float over her head like a passing cloud. It had to have captured her imagination, it had to have awakened her fascination to a whole new identity. There is another community!
God is not to be worshiped generically, but as the very giver of her life, as the one who knows her, watched over her, as the one who looks at her and says, " my beloved." This community is not just open to her, but it is the " Family " to which she belongs, " The Kingdom of God."
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute—
you're already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I'd even lived one day.
Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I'll never comprehend them!
I couldn't even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea. ( Eugene Peterson's. The Message )
Jesus does not just save her from her sin as an individual, he offers her a place to belong. We need to fascinate people's imagination with this place of belonging.