Jesus’ ministry had a sharp edge to it—and still does. It is the Ministry of Reality. Jesus cannot heal in theory, he can only heal in realty. Thus, Jesus can only heal when people confront reality, which means confronting all the ways in which they’ve buried their humanity. This is painful, which is why following Jesus is painful. It’s why C.S. Lewis calls Jesus “not safe, but good.”Jesus is not safe to the part of us that wants to avoid reality for the sake of avoiding pain.
For this reason, Jesus is not shy about making people address their hearts. If you don’t understand the Ministry of Reality and the fact that healing only happens in reality, you might just conclude that Jesus is a jerk. He says some hard, even harsh, things. But if you understand his ministry and his aim, you’ll understand the urgency with which he calls people to reality, and thecompassionthat undergirds it all. I don’t whisper when I tell my child not to touch a hot stove, and Jesus doesn’t hold back when calling people into reality. Jesus always stands before people and calls them out of whatever has dehumanized them, separating their true desire for God with all the false ways they have gone about satisfying that desire to their own detriment and to the burying of their heart and their humanity.
When a rich young man came to Jesus asking about eternal life, but was unwilling to let go of his possessions, Jesus looked on him “with compassion” before telling him to go and sell his goods.Jesus makes people address their hearts.This is the only way he can bring them into reality, where they can be saved.Sometimes only hard words can bring someone into reality, where they can be touched and healed. Similarly, when Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman, he is not shy to point out that she has been in a string of immoral relationships, even if this is embarrassing for her.Jesus always points out the things we cling to—money, sex, power, religion—that actually dehumanize us, so that he can reconnect us with our humanity’s deepest longings, which we have often abandoned. Jesus must lead us into the reality of these deeper longings, and crossing through the regret of all our bad choices is painful; nevertheless, across that bridge is the only way back to our own selves. Jesus is like a doctor setting a bone: it’s painful, but it’s the only way you’re going to walk again.
Jesus goes about re-humanizing those he encounters in myriad ways. With Zacchaeus, he invites himself over. On the Emmaus road, he creates a container for telling the story of God by asking questions and drawing out the story of the disciples, then he completes it by having a meal with them. Jesus must first draw out the humanity of his listeners so that they can hear the divine story. Once someone is standing back in their humanity, they can hear the story of God. By the same token, people can generally not hear the divine story unless their humanity is being addressed. Thus, Jesus first creates a container. If he just gives his Bible lesson on the Emmaus road without first connecting with the humanity of his hearers, they will be much less likely to hear. It will just be theoretical—theology without grounding, big ideas disconnected from the hearts of the hearers. God knows we humans love big ideas that we can bat around without ever having to confront our true selves. On the other hand, once you’re in somebody’s story and once they are connected to their own heart, God can visit there. If we are open to it, God will always visit the unburying of our humanity. Jesus knows this, and so he asks questions. He doesn’t just enter into the disciples’ home, he enters into their story.
For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Puffin Books, New York, NY. 1959. Page 75.