How Jesus Models Sarah’s Circle, not Jacob’s Ladder, Consciousness

Jesus continually operated from the consciousness of Sarah’s Circle. How else can one interpret his saying, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”?  It is precisely in a circle that the first are last; the last are first.  And, what is more to the point, no one knows who is first, who is last–and above all, no one cares.

A ceremonial circle at the San Francisco Civic Center in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the Water Protectors standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline, 11/15/2016. Photo by Peg Hunter on Flickr

Indeed, when he was pressured by his disciples to name their proper place at table, Jesus utterly rejected the notion of ladder climbing (Lk. 14:7-11). His supper times with his disciples were clearly an eye to eye circle kind of intimacy, including his Last Supper. It did not end well for the rich man at the ladder’s top whom Jesus describes as dropping crumbs from the table onto Lazarus. (Lk. 16:19-31)

The sacrament of washing of the feet that meant so much to Jesus the night before he died is a patent example of a Sarah circle dynamic. What is more eye to eye, more near to earth and more distant from ladder climbing than to wash another’s feet?  

Father John Donaghy washes the feet of children on Maundy Thursday 2010 in Veracruz. Photo uploaded by John Donaghy on Flickr.

Maybe this ritual ought to be revived for more than a once-a-year ceremonial reenactment. If parents washed children’s feet and children parents’; if leaders washed the folks’ feet and the folks’ washed the leaders’; if lovers washed one another’s feet, our world might become less power-over and more power-with.

Jesus both washed his disciples’ feet and had his feet washed with ointment by a woman who also dried them with her long hair. A healthy, com-passionate (passion-with) energy is at work here, open to giving and receiving.

“Miracle of the Bread and Fish” by Giovanni Lanfranco. At the National Gallery of Ireland; on Wikimedia Commons.

Another example of Sarah-Circle in Jesus’ consciousness occurs in the context of his healing the suffering and his feeding the hungry (Mt. 15:29-39). We read that Jesus called his disciples and said to them:

I feel compassion [literally, ‘my bowels are turning within me’, splanchnizomai] towards all these people; they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away unfed; they might faint on the way.” … So he ordered the people to sit down on the ground; then he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and after giving thanks to God he broke them and gave to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the people….

Namaste greeting in Nepal: The Divine in me salutes the Divine in you.” Photo by Stew Carrington on Flickr.

Notice that Jesus requires for this Sarah-circle eating occasion sitting down on the ground. Earthiness, being close to the earth and therefore eye-to-eye, lies at the core of Jesus’s spiritual consciousness.  He deconstructs power-over relationships.

As does his iconic teaching: “The kingdom/queendom of God is among you (or within you).”  Not above you; nor beyond you; nor lording over you.  The divine is present now and is among/within us all.  Just like creation is.  It awaits our response.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, pp. 56f.

Banner Image: “Love Thy Neighbor.” Photo by Luis Morera on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize further circle-dynamic energies in the stories of Jesus and his teaching?  What about other spiritual teachers?

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10 thoughts on “How Jesus Models Sarah’s Circle, not Jacob’s Ladder, Consciousness”

  1. Avatar

    What a wonderful reflection on Sarah’s Circle and on “circle” itself. I am so grateful for this teaching, a way of understanding which I had never realized before. It makes these scripture passages so much more meaningful for me now.

    I continue to be completely amazed at the depth of your reflections, Matt, “like a great underground river that no one can stop” (from Eckhart, I’m sure you recognize!)

    Thank you so much for feeding my soul into action.

  2. Avatar
    Jim Borgschatz

    I like your exploration of the Sarah’s Circle. But I think the interpretation of Jacob’s ladder is incorrect. The ladder is all about God coming to Jacob… coming to us… which Jesus did in kenosis. It is what we all do before we sit with one another. Just a thought.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jim, you make a good point concerning the meaning of Jacob’s Ladder, however, Matthew’s point is to move from “going up and away” from the earth and community and embracing Sarah’s Circle which is all about community…

  3. Avatar
    Martha Hamilton

    I want to share another version:
    We are dancing the circle of the Lord
    We are dancing the circle of the Lord We are dancing the circle of the Lord
    As we really are

    We have faith hope and love
    We travel the way truth and life
    We are enkindled enlightened and consumed
    As we really are

    We are mystics gnostics and magic
    We receive vision inspiration and intuition
    We practice devotion humility and surrender
    As we really are

  4. Avatar

    Hello, Dr. Fox! I so appreciate your daily meditations, and your books–and particularly your recent circle-dance meditations. You may already know this, but E. Stanley Jones used the circle metaphor in his book, ‘Christ of the Round Table.’ A round table, a circle. He built his ministry in relation to that vision. I offer you this additiona confirmation and resource, if you are not already familiar with it.

    All God’s best to you! You are a blessing to me!

    Dr. Steve Harper, retired professor of Spiritual Formation and retired Elder in The United Methodist Church. If you’re interested, I post at, where you can also find a list of the books I have written.

    1. Phila Hoopes

      Hello Mary,
      We have received your message, and responded to you directly by email: the Daily Meditations are still going out, but you were no longer listed among our subscribers. I have re-subscribed you, and you will receive tomorrow’s DM.
      Phila Hoopes
      Blog Coordinator

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