The ambiguity of Jesus

There’s no way around it – Jesus was ambiguous. He always seemed to send people away scratching their heads – even his disciples. He was not a man with easy answers. He never gave a three-point message. His sermons don’t outline very well.

His favorite phrase when speaking a public message was “He who has an ear, let him hear.” Hear. He used it as an activity – something that some people do with their ears, but not necessarily everybody.

Jesus had a favorite method of speaking to people. He put it in a story – a parable. When his disciples asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, he replied: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables” (Matthew 13:11-123).

Thanks, Jesus. That about clears it up. You speak in parables and you answer in riddles. “He who has…” He who has what? Cars, boats, swimming pools, friends, truth? What does he mean? Now we have two questions: “Why did he speak in parables?” and “What does his answer mean?”

To each of his disciples Jesus simply said, “Follow me.” That was an invitation, not a requirement. An invitation respects the freedom of the invitee to accept or decline. Indeed, the “no” answer is perhaps the greatest expression of human dignity possible. That men and women can go to heaven is an expression of God’s love; that they can go to hell is an expression of the value he places on their freedom,

God desires – not requires – a relationship with us. It is not a one-sided affair; we are co-participants with him, both in our relationship with him and in our work in the world.

A woman with a hemorrhage struggled through the press of the crowd in order to touch his garment; four men opened a hole in the ceiling of a crowded house and let down their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus; a centurion soldier asked that Jesus only speak a word so his servant would be healed; a blind man went and washed the clay and the darkness from his eyes; a little boy offered his meager lunch to feed a multitude. Even the miracles of Jesus involved human participation. This was not just a Messianic Magic Show; this was God interacting in human experience – giving and taking, relating with us as Son of Man.

God does not pull all the strings. He counts us as too important for that. To find without seeking, to hear without listening, to say yes without the possibility of saying no is to negate the value of my seeking, my hearing, and my participating. I am not a puppet.

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8 Responses to The ambiguity of Jesus

  1. Ken Flessas says:

    The glory of God is intelligence, we just have to learn to use it to glorify Him.
    Thanks John for your insightful thought today, I have shared it with all who might have an ear to hear.

  2. Andrew says:

    Very nice, John. I agree completely. (And I take it you’ve been scratching your head a bit, lately, at how those preaching Reformed doctrine can come to the conclusions they do!)

  3. Jim Seybert says:

    Wow. John, I’d never considered it this way.

    People CAME to Jesus.

    He didn’t go door-to-door. He didn’t get in anyone’s face at a street fair. He didn’t carry signs condemning others in a parade.

    He just was who he was and being that compelled people to seek him out. They WANTED to be near him. They didn’t finally give in to the pressure. They weren’t nagged or guilt-tripped into following.


    Thank you.

  4. One of my favorite columns, John. I so love Jesus for the utter respect He shows us and the truth He teaches and re-teaches: real love is always 100% voluntary, Be with me because you love me and want to be with me, not because you fear my anger, or fear hell.

    This prodigal daughter loves running and walking toward God.

  5. LD says:

    As long as there is no ambiguity to man’s fallen state and need for Christ’s atoning sacrifice…

  6. Andy says:

    I’m sorry to be negative, Mr. Fischer, but I am so tired of this approach to Jesus’ teaching style–because it ignores specific statements of Scripture that demonstrate your thesis is wrong. In particular Matt. 13:10-16, which you cite in part but do not explore sufficiently.

    This one is a “gimme”; a direct question is asked, and a direct answer is given. You make it sound as if it’s as “clear as mud,” but that’s your own caricature of what Jesus said. We know from the context of all four gospels as a unit (esp. John 8:47) that “hearing” is a necessary ingredient in a relationship with God. Therefore the masses didn’t “hear” Jesus because they were not already in a relationship with God and were in fact not sincerely interested in one. There is no great mystery here; paying attention to the gospels (and the entire NT) as a whole will readily tell the tale. Moreover, following v. 16 Jesus in fact goes on to *explain* privately to his disciples the very parables he had just been dispensing to the crowd of “unhearing” outsiders.

    Jesus was NOT “ambiguous” in the sense or to the degree you presume. Of course some things he said are harder to understand than other things, but you make it sound as if it’s interpretively just all up for grabs. You actually seem to want Jesus to be indefinite rather than too overt or to come on too strong, maybe because that would go against the grain of your version of “freedom.”

    Sincerely in Christ,

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