When people asked Jesus questions, he avoided definitive answers. Instead, Jesus responded with parables because they offered open-ended answers that respect people’s own process. He never said this is the answer, period. He said “Here is a story—work with it, put yourself in it, see what happens.” So, there’s not one answer, but several depending on our point of view. And the story isn’t complete without the listener’s engagement.
Many came to Jesus expecting him to solve their problems. Instead he helped them to connect to their own faith and their own wisdom. They had a part to play. It wasn’t a one-way street with Jesus taking control. The people’s faith played a big part in Jesus’ healings. That’s why Jesus repeatedly said, “Your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9: 21-22, Mark 5: 34). Our linear minds would like to arrive at the definitive: “It was Jesus who made them well.” But this isn’t Jesus’ point. There’s a process—a dynamic in healing, which requires the consent of both healer and healed. Good storytelling requires the engagement of both storyteller and listener. It isn’t a top-down linear relationship where one person dominates.
Jesus’ egalitarian sensibilities run throughout the Gospels—something completely fresh and surprising in the linear hierarchical society of first-century Palestine. Jesus’ example of servant leadership is extraordinary. He said, “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:25a, 26). Jesus says “Forget about hierarchies, chains of command, and pecking orders. Let’s get rid of the rectangular table with the boss at the head. Let’s get a circular table, where everyone’s voice is heard. Everyone has a place at the table.”
Life is about symbiosis—give and take. I learn from you. You learn from me. Teaching is a two-way street. Both are teachers—both students. When it comes to Jesus, some don’t want to admit this. Some prefer clearly defined authority—a chain of command. Everything’s tidier that way. There’s less room for chaos. There’s also less room for mystery. The Quakers have a saying, “Don’t walk in front of me. I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me. I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend.” This is the power of the incarnation. God chose to walk beside us. We have a part to play in our own transformation and healing. God incarnate grants power with, not power over. Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15a, NIV).
Jesus’ life and teaching marks a shift from God’s power over to God’s power with, from inaccessibility to incarnation, from God of fear to God of love, from remote God to intimate God (Jesus used the intimate Hebrew word “Abba” (Daddy) when referring to God, shocking his listeners).