I got one of those big, colorful brochures for a church leadership conference in the mail recently. It’s a good church and a good conference but I couldn’t help noticing how much the church defines itself and proves its worth by quoting big numbers: 10,000 members, 6,000 in Sunday School and millions of dollars in the budget.
This is what we do in church and everywhere – we put our confidence in getting to the top of whatever we are in the business of…money, converts, political office, basketball….
It’s the same with the disciples sifting with Jesus at the meal we have come to call the Last Supper. They argue over who gets the best seat in the house, top spot in the new regime to come. As Mark tells it, James and John ask Jesus directly: Could one of us sit at your right and one at your left in your glory? In Matthew, it’s the mother of James and John who asks Jesus for the favor. You get the idea that being on top was important to the disciples.
It’s the same with the crowds who see Jesus coming toward Jerusalem and start waving those palm branches, remembering another hero, Simon Maccabeus, who launched a successful guerilla war against a brutal ruler 200 years before. They’re shouting: Welcome, warrior king. We are Number One! Hosanna!” This is what we do.
We look for a Lord who looks the part – powerful, in charge, with bodyguards, who rides in a limo and gets calls from Oprah and Fox News. The problem is, that is not the Lord we have, now or ever. This Lord comes to town on a donkey, not a Humvee. His is the road of vulnerability, of giving away for the good of others, of not looking for compliments or perks or even recognition.
This Lord lives his whole life out of one simple conviction that even a child can understand and that is, that every human being, every man, every woman, every child, including oneself, is a beloved creature of God. This is humility.
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It is the opposite of greed where we jostle around the table for the best position no matter who we jab or step on or crowd out. We say, If I take care of myself first then good things can trickle down to others. But an appetite for things like money and prestige and food only gets bigger the more I have and there is very little trickling. And anyway – who wants life to be a trickle? Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. He offers that life to every human being, not just members of Prairie Baptist Church or Kansas Citians or even Americans, but every woman and child and man because each one is a beloved creature of God – to be treasured, respected, served.
So when the disciples start pushing and shoving to get to the top of their little heap, Jesus says, “Hey. That’s the way the world does it,” – a world of foreign, oppressive, autocratic kings and rulers lording it over them, adding insult to injury by calling themselves of all things, “Benefactors.”
Not my way, says Jesus. You want to know the best place at the table? It’s not even at the table, it isserving the ones who are at the table. My sister waited tables one summer at the Apple Grove Inn, the biggest, fanciest restaurant in our hometown. Her legs ached. Customers were rude. The pay was terrible. She slid one tray of whipped cream pies onto a rack too close to the tray above and all the whipped cream on the bottom tray off on the top and the manager screamed. Not much glory.
But, as Paul writes to the Philippians, using an ancient hymn, “Don’t quarrel, one-up one another, but instead, be like Christ Jesus who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Phil. 2:5-7), someone as low in as a waiter of tables.
It sounds like meekness is weakness, but the humility of Christ is anything but. This is holy and fearless and God-honoring humility that dissolves evil and heals a broken world. That humble man riding a donkey in from the east was on a collision course with the arrogant Roman ruler parading in from the west. The gentle king and the palm wavers walked in direct opposition to a world that oppresses and exploits and then insists that “God wants things this way.”
The humility of Christ is a world transforming attitude of the heart. It is not about putting oneself down, it is about holding God’s way up. And down through the ages, servants of the living Christ have lived out of this same holy humility. There is Gustavo Gutierrez, a small man wearing the simple pancho of his Mayan ancestors, one of the greatest
theologians and scholars of our lifetime, who lifted up God’s care for the poor and God’s judgment of the powerful. Everyday he walked from his university lecture hall across town to nondescript barrio to say mass with ordinary people in the parish church.
There is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born to wealth and privilege in Germany who went to prison for opposing the Nazi regime. While awaiting his eventual execution, he counseled and prayed with fellow captors and guards when Allied bombing raids shook the walls.
There is Mary Kay Meyer, of Shalom House, in Kansas City, Kansas, who washed and folded clothes and provided shelter and food for those with no voice and no standing and no homes.
And there are so many of you, people of faith and faithfulness, of gentle humility, caring for children each day, going to school, doing your jobs as honestly and responsibly as you can, telling the simple truth day in and day out whether it seems to be to your advantage or not, caring for neighbors, reaching out to strangers, giving, forgiving, encouraging, because that is what Jesus teaches and that is what transforms the world.
COPYRIGHT 2007, Dr. Heather Entrekin. Used by permission.