The show Intervention on A&E illustrates how a drug addict gets to the sad point in which a therapist has to sit down with the addict and deliver him the hard, but necessary truth of their addiction. In the grand picture of salvation, Jesus is the interventionist, and we are the addict that suffers from the addiction to sin. In any intervention situation, we can see it is a common practice for a therapist to be more up-front when the condition is severe, and the person he is talking with does not seem to grasp his problem. If we examine the moves of Jesus, we can see that Jesus, himself, applies this same method. The way Jesus communicated to people reveals not only a lot about his approach but explains the disposition of the people he was talking to. Jesus conveyed his message through parables and stories. Now, he did this so people can sincerely seek the truth and ask questions in a humble fashion, but he also taught in parables so the truth would be hidden from the proud and arrogant (see Matthew 13: 10-15, 34-35). Therefore, we can conclude the state of that person reveals how Jesus spoke to that person. Obviously, this makes sense because how one communicates to a toddler is going to be different than how one communicates with a teenager. Furthermore, how a person converses to a drug addict is different than communicating to a coffee addict. You need to be more candid with a teen over a toddler, given their level of understanding, and you need to be more direct to a drug addict than a coffee addict, given the nature of their problem.
At many times throughout the Gospels, Jesus was very blunt with his audience. Much like an interventionist, he often used harsh, in-your-face tactics to get through to people. After Jesus healed a man, the Bible reads, “Jesus sternly charged him say nothing about this” (Mark 1:43). The key word here is “sternly.” Notice Jesus was “stern” in connection to healing someone. Also, the Bible indicates he “strictly” ordered people about certain things (see Mark 3:12, Mark 5:43).
Jesus gets even more aggressive. When people used the temple as a place of business, Jesus made a whip of cords to drive out the merchants in the temple (see John 2:13-17, Matthew 21: 12-13). His language becomes very up-front, so he can get his point across. He called his disciples “fools” (see Luke 24: 25), he referred to a Canaanite woman as a “dog” (see Matthew 15: 26), and he called Peter “Satan” when Peter refused to listen to his instructions (see Matthew 16:23). Moreover, he referred to his many critics as “a wicked and adulterous generation” (see Matthew 16:4). He “upbraided” his disciples (see Mark 16: 14) and repeatedly used strict language about judgment “and being condemned” (see Matthew 25: 41, 13: 41-42, Mark 16:16). Jesus had harsh words for whole cities (see Matthew 11:20-24) and nations (Matthew 25:31-33) implying that people who lived in these areas are in serious trouble and need to listen up. Now, what is Jesus doing with all this tough language? He is doing exactly what any good interventionist needs to do. He needs to use severe words and tactics to shock people out of their delusional comfort zone so he can help them. In fact, he said that he is like a doctor that came for the sick (see Mark 2:17). Well, when people do not know they are sick, the divine doctor has to be more up-front with them in order to start the healing process for them.
Even when Jesus healed people, he continued this in your face method. Jesus told the ill man he healed to “sin no more that nothing worse befall you” (see John 5:14) implying the hard teaching that the man became ill because of his flawed past. Jesus was frank with the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4: 7-18) indicating that “you have had 5 husbands and the one you are with is not yours.” There was no mild or meek teaching in the story of the unrepentant servant (see Matthew 18: 34-35), or in the instance of how to deal with people who wrong you (see Matthew 18: 15-17). When Mary Magdalene wanted to hug him after he appeared to her in resurrected form, he, in fact, told her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). This verse implies Jesus is more concerned with following the correct instructions the Father gave him rather than simply responding with emotional words.
Here, we come to the key point that if Jesus is the truth (see John 14:6, 18:37) and if the truth is what people need (see John 8: 31-32) than the truth at first is going to be scary for people. In fact, when Jesus first came into the world as a baby the Gospel indicated that “all of Jerusalem was troubled” (see Matthew 2:3). Now, why in the heck would a baby trouble people? Well, once we know Jesus is the truth, we can understand that when the truth comes to people, it will be scary. It would be as if someone who knows all your inner thoughts is now approaching you. Of course, this would freak you out because it would expose how messed up your soul is. The sin addict much like the drug addict does not like it when the truth of their addiction is exposed.
We see more examples of people being scared by even the site of Jesus. When Jesus came in resurrected form people didn’t jump with excitement. Rather, the reaction was that of “trembling” (see Mark 16:8, Luke 24:36-38). At the transfiguration, the response to Jesus was that of fear (see Mark 9:6, Matthew 17: 6-7). When Jesus finally visited John after he promised he would come, did John respond with joy at Jesus arrival? No, John “fell on his face” in fright (see Revelation 1:17). When Jesus performed a miracle at sea the disciples’ response was not of excitement, but rather of fear (see Mark 4:40). When Peter realized who Jesus is (the truth) he became terrified, went to his knees and basically said, “You need to leave, because I am a sinful man” (see Luke 5:8). Essentially, Peter is saying, “Doctor I can’t stand to see the ugliness of my x-ray, please leave me.” Indeed, when the disciples understood who Jesus was, Jesus replied, “don’t be afraid” (Luke 5: 10) implying that the truth in its fully manifested form will at first be scary.
These examples indicate that Jesus and his teaching will first put an uncomfortable fear into people. That is the whole point. Showing an addict their addiction will likely cause an addict to first experience an emotional panic attack (see here). This is because their sickness has come into the light. This shaking and trembling reaction is actually what psychologists call cognitive dissonance theory - or the classic “fight or flight” response.
One can witness this emotional freak out in the very way the crowd reacted to Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus taught the people in the synagogue the direct and ugly truth about who he is and their problems, they violently revolted at him and wanted to throw him off a cliff (see Luke 4:20-30). When Jesus delivered his difficult teaching to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” the crowd very much rebelled against his words (see John 6: 42,52,60,66). In fact, Jesus even plainly said that the world is going to hate him and his disciples because of his teaching (see John 7:7, 17: 14-16) Many people were continuously put off by Jesus’ teaching and his approach (see Matthew 16:24-25, 19:10, 19:25, Mark 6:3).
Certainly, what is going on here is Jesus as the divine interventionist has to use direct and harsh tactics to give the delusional addict (sinners) their hard to hear, yet necessary news of their problem, the addict will naturally revolt and experience a freak out to this news. Often, an addict will at first revolt against their interventionist or therapist (see here and here). The addict’s rebellion at Jesus reveals the age-old response, if you don’t like the message, take down the messenger.
When someone teaches authentic Christianity to people, it is supposed to rub them the wrong way. This is all a part of the intervention process. Now, it is not designed to keep people in the scared, trembling position. Rather, it is the first step of their conversion healing.
Let’s come back to an important distinction in how Jesus communicates with people. The more humble the person is, the gentler and softer Jesus is in his words and approach. Nothing can be more innocent and humble than children. Children will ask questions and more easily listen to instructions than adults will. Thus, to have childlike humility (see Matthew 18: 1-4) is to receive the gentle Jesus. However, the more prideful and arrogant a person is, the more direct Jesus needs to be in his method. The reason he does this is that he needs to move a prideful person down to the level of humility so that person will receive his medicine. Recall, Jesus said he came as a doctor for the sick (Mark 2:17). Well, only when a person knows he is sick will he listen to the divine doctor and take his medicine. When you know you are sick, you are sitting in humility. However, if a person doesn’t know that he is sick, he is seated at pride. This disposition is troubling because at this stage they won’t take the medicine or even listen to the divine doctor if they think they aren’t sick. So, it is necessary to show the addict their sickness (pride) so they will move to humility. In sum, if a person has pride they will receive a direct, harsh Jesus. If they are humble, they will receive a gentle, nice Jesus. Jesus is helping both people, but notice his method with people in group 2 (pride) is more direct precisely because he has to lower them to group 1 (humility). This fall from pride to humility is going to be a painful process for a prideful person. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus scorns the Pharisees. The Pharisees represent pride. The Pharisees thought they were perfect – not sick. It is a historical fact that the Pharisees refused to receive Sacramental baptism (see Luke 7:29-30). Why? Because you don’t need to take a bath if you think you’re not dirty. The Pharisees thought they did not have sin, hence, no sacramental cleansing was necessary for them. Therefore, Jesus’ language with the Pharisees was harsh precisely because they were drenched with pride. Conversely, the sinners who knew they were sick received more of a gentle, mild response from Jesus. In knowing they are sick, these people represent humility – knowing they are flawed; knowing they don’t have all the answers and seeking the one who does.
Just like snow can only enter when the temperature drops below freezing, God can only enter a person when humility has exceeded pride (see Matthew 23:12, Luke 13:30, 1 Kings 21:28-29, 2 Chronicles 32: 24-26, Job 22:29, Psalm 18:28, Proverbs 18:3, 11:2, 16:19, 29:23, Sirach 2: 17, Isaiah 5:15, Daniel 3: 87, Acts 20: 19-24, Ephesians 4: 1-6, 1 Timothy 6:4,). Given this, it is highly crucial that if pride controls a person, it must be flushed out any way possible. The flushing out of pride will likely require an interventionist to use a direct, aggressive manner.
Many people tend to view Jesus as simply a man of peace or a man that projected a warm and fuzzy emotional appeal. He actually never defined himself like that. He mainly defined himself as the truth (see John 14:6, 18:37). To those that think Jesus' peace is not about the truth and more about "feeling good" or "getting along" Jesus himself indicated this watered-down definition of peace is wrong. Shortly after announcing the mission of the twelve, Jesus declared, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come not to bring peace but the sword"(Matthew 10:34). Now, most theologians indicate the sword Jesus is referring to is the truth (see Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17, John 18:37). And, this would make sense because Jesus' mission was to take down the devil, who is describes "the father of lies" (see John 8:44). Well, if you are the truth, then by definition you have to cut out all the lies and deception so the truth can be seen. Notice again how peace is associated with truth. Moreover, with the image of the sword, Jesus is proposing that the process of getting at the truth is going to be uncomfortable at first. The reason it's going to be painful is because when you are seeking what is true, you're going to have to give up what you want to be true. You're going to have go beyond yourself of what you want to be true and embrace an objective reality - the truth. In other words, to embrace the truth you have to go to a source outside yourself. Going beyond oneself is a painful process to those who are couched in pride.
What Jesus is doing is what every counselor, personal trainer, coach, teacher, parent, does. He says, “I need to go through the painful process of showing you the problem so you can be ready to receive the solution.” Now, to a humble person this is no big deal because a humble person acknowledges they have a problem and humility expects, and in some cases, embraces the problem. However, to a prideful person, this experience of being shown their errors is going to be incredibly distressing. This painful process is, however, short-term in that it moves them to healing in the long-term.
As a good interventionist Jesus is so committed to this short-term pain long-term gain process, he explains how when he leaves it will hurt them, but ultimately is necessary to bring them happiness in the long run (see John 16: 20-22).
After all the hard teaching and anguish the disciples experienced, Jesus finally gave them the peace they were looking for. We see this played out in John 20: 19-23 as he breathed on them he passed on to them his authority, his peace, and ultimately his power. Therefore, in this episode, the disciples reached the pinnacle of what Jesus was trying to give them – peace like he has. Notice that this process of getting to this level was incredibly uncomfortable for the disciples. The best analogy to demonstrate this would be like when a personal trainer turns an obese person into becoming a personal trainer himself. To do this, the personal trainer needs to put the obese person through a difficult, stern workout program that will require much pain for him in the short term. However, in the long term will help him and give him the ability to help others.
Ultimately, Jesus' harsh language is pointing people to peace. Just like how every addict’s recovery story is filled with painful bumps along the way, every sinner’s conversion process is as well going to be agonizing. However, the process itself reveals that love necessarily comes with thorns. As Mother Theresa said, “For love to be real it has to hurt.” Much like the cross is painful, the teaching of the faith will invoke unpleasant experiences, but in the end, will give you peace.