Spirit Penetration

In the stories of Matthew, Mark, and Luke we see Jesus engaging persons whose personality habit is to think that he or she knows what is good and what is evil.  Some come to Jesus complaining about what he does on the Sabbath day.  Jesus penetrates their personality with sayings like, “The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath.”  Or they express their shock and revulsion that Jesus is eating meals with tax collectors, riffraff, and other Jewish lawbreakers.  Jesus says to them, “It is the sick, not the well, who have need of a doctor.” 

One of the best stories about penetrating a moralistic personality is the story in which Jesus is having a meal and a discussion with a Pharisee who invited him for a visit and apparently has a modicum of interest in Jesus and his wisdom.  While they are there at the table, a woman comes in and begins washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.  The Pharisee recognizes her as a woman of the streets who has probably made her living providing bodily comforts to the male population.  He is repulsed that Jesus is permitting such a woman to touch him.  Jesus recognizes the Pharisee’s feelings and asks to speak to him.  The Pharisee consents, and Jesus tells a story about two men who owe another man a debt.  One of them owes a big debt and the other a small debt.  The lender forgives them both.  Jesus asks the Pharisee, “Which one do you suppose will love the lender the most?”  The Pharisee gives the obvious answer that it is the one who owes the most.  Then Jesus points out that this woman whose sins are very great is showing great love.  He also points out that nothing comparable is being shown him by the Pharisee.  Then Jesus makes this penetrating remark, “Her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven; where little has been forgiven, little love is shown.” (Luke 7:47)  The Pharisee is left to ponder whether his harshness toward the woman and his lack of love for Jesus indicates layers in his own life that need forgiveness.

Here are some other examples of New Testament stories in which Jesus penetrates someone’s personality with a challenge to that person to access their Spirit Being:

[Jesus] said to another man, “Follow me.”  And he replied, “Let me go and bury my father first.”  But Jesus told him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  You must come away and preach the Kingdom of God.”   (Luke 9:59-60; J. B. Phillips translation)

Jesus sees that this man’s personality includes an attachment to family obligations.  For this man to enter the “Kingdom of Spirit” he must turn loose of that old pattern.  Jesus’ words penetrate his sense of reality, penetrate the box of personality in which he is living.

Another man said to him, “I am going to follow you, Lord, but first let me bid farewell to my people at home.”  But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and then looks behind him is useless for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62; J. B. Phillips translation)

In this case, the man wants to make everybody he loves feel good about his decision to be a Spirit person.  This is a violation of the wholeheartedness required for living the Spirit Life.   Jesus penetrates his sense of reality.

And while he was still saying this, a woman in the crowd called out and said, “Oh what a blessing for a woman to have brought you into the world and nursed you.”  But Jesus replied, “Yes, but a far greater blessing to hear the word of God and obey it.”
(Luke 11:27-28; J. B. Phillips translation)

This woman appears to be a helper, an outgoing person who says what she feels to encourage others, but does not appreciate fully the dynamics of her own inner being.  Jesus does not deny the truth of what the woman says about him, nor does he reject her enthusiasm.  Yet he cuts through this woman’s images of subservience and challenges her to be a Spirit woman herself rather than simply an enabler of someone else.  Her flight from Spirit is not her vision of the greatness of Jesus, but her reluctance to see herself as the very same greatness, a potential waiting to be enacted.  If she came to see herself as Jesus saw her, left behind her old images, and received her welcome into the clan of Great Spirit Beings, then Spirit could be said to have penetrated her personality cocoon.

In such stories, individuals in Jesus’ presence are provoked to look beyond their habituated patterns and see the hidden Kingdom, the Spirit Being, the personal essence that is our true human nature.  In such initial experiences of Spirit, one is not asked to demolish personality or to be completely detached from personality or even to stop identifying with one’s personality.  One is asked to simply allow a bit of Spirit into one’s consciousness.   Such is the challenge of the first beatitude:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

This might be reworded to mean:

Blessed are those who experience their profound need,
for they shall find the Commonwealth of Spirit.

Living exclusively in the box of personality sooner or later becomes a desert, lacking moisture, water, juice. Repeating old dry habits over and over ceases to be an alive and vital participation in life. Also, we begin to be more aware of the devilish quality of our own personality. Its addictions, defensiveness, reactive behaviors, violence, meanness, bitterness, and despairs become a never absent pain that haunts our lives that are lived in the box of personality.  Life in this box becomes a meaningless life, a thing of dust, useless worthless dust, like some old discarded something found in an attic, so useless that we might as well be a corpse rotting in the grave. These are examples of that sense of profound need that the first Beatitude calls “blessed.”

Such experiences are blessed because they indicate that the Commonwealth of Spirit is near, that the Kingdom of Full Reality is close by. The box of personality is being penetrated by a larger sense of Reality. This moment is blessed because the Reality that is seeping into our box is a moisture, a refreshment, an innocence, a vitality that we are missing and very much need. We can call this seepage “Awe” or “Spirit,” but whatever we call it, it is something more than living in our box. It means getting in touch with the Mystery, surprise and adventure of our lives

Here is a personal example:  While still in college I attended a lecture by an African American preacher who had written a novel about the life of Jesus. He made it plain that the power and courage of Jesus were possibilities for all human beings. He also made it plain that accepting this simple truth would be costly in terms of one’s acceptability to others. In a private conversation, he chided me that I might not want to pay this price. For some reason, perhaps my own stubbornness, this chiding prompted me to push into the matter even more vigorously. I began to look beyond the box of being a mathematics scholar and teacher acceptable to my parents and expected by my friends. I began to become poor in spirit in the sense that I began to sacrifice my riches of approval by friends and family in order to open to some radical qualities of awareness that most others found foolish and dangerous. But I experienced this rather difficult openness as a blessing, a road to happiness.

Blessed are those who experience their profound need,
for they shall find the Commonwealth of Spirit.

For more discussion of along these lines, consider the essays in:

Unreduced Realism, Course Three:
Steps Toward a Next Christianity
Transfiguring a Religious Tradition