It’s early – 5:30 or so, when I hear the first birds of morning as light and sound bid me to wake and join the living. I lay in bed and ponder what Wednesday must have been like for Jesus during that week between the height of popularity and the unified chorus of “crucify him!” spewed from the lips of the jealous, and the angry, and the fearful. The all knowing Jesus knew of his own impending death. We know, too, that this was to be the moment in his life when his own will crossed that of the Father’s, for up until that point Jesus had made it quite clear that his will and initiative, authority and judgement, were ever and always aligned with God’s. Jesus was, after all, the embodied fulfillment of Psalm 40, which says “I delight to do your will, O my God”
Later that week though, in the garden, there would be drops of blood, and agony, and wrestling, instead of delight. Those garden moments were a crux. The fulcrum of history hung in the balance because Jesus had the power of violence at his disposal, and this choice created, for the very human Jesus, an opportunity for both personal vindication and the destruction of his enemies. One quick call, and the angels destroy his tormentors and accusers. Battle Over. God wins.
Of course, we know that Jesus chose the narrow road instead, that he denied his own desires and laid down his life. This is the critical choice we celebrate this week, but in our celebration we’d do well to pause and look at our own important choices when it comes to matters of power and reputation.
Jesus rejected the chance for personal vindication and the destruction of his enemies. But aren’t these the core values of leadership as we know it in the 21st century? The morning news highlights Syria’s ongoing destruction of their own people. Obama and Mitt Romney are just beginning to eat each other, and we’ll be subjected to their rhetoric for months, until we’re sick to our stomachs. If you think your solace will come within the shelter of church life, think again. Our wars over nuanced doctrines, our funding of super-PACS, our fear based theology and posturing for market share and authority are all rooted in the belief that right doctrines and developing power are more important than how we live. If we can prove we’re right and the other is wrong, get to the center of power and push the godless ‘other’ out to the margins, then all will be well.
I wonder. Would I have chosen personal vindication and destruction over my enemies, when God was calling me to “lamb style leadership”? Would you?
The challenge is that this isn’t a hypothetical question. We who follow Christ know that we’re called to Lamb style leadership, just like Jesus. “Unless a grain of wheat falls in the ground and dies…” “He who seeks to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for my sake will find it” And so it goes, or at least, so it should go. Instead the history of Christ’s followers, from the time of Constantine on, is filled with tragic stories of violence and lust for power, in Jesus name. This man, who laid down his life, became the one in whose name humanity has colonized, killed, mutilated, and enslaved. How did that happen?
It happened, in part, because many of us were taught that Christ took the place that was rightfully ours. While that’s a true statement, it’s not a complete statement. This doctrine is called the substitutionary atonement, and I’d suggest that word substitute is a bad one. It implies that Jesus bore the cross so I don’t need to. His pain. My gain.
This entire line of thinking makes our lust for power “in Jesus name” possible. And where does that lead?
2. The justification of slavery by theologians
3. The crusades
4. A nation of evangelicals in support of torture, nuclear arms, and enormous defense budgets, without even a national conversation about just war and the dangers of nationalism as an idol.
This all flows naturally from this belief: Christ became the lamb FOR us, so now we’re free to be lions.
That would be great if it wasn’t for this, and this, and this. It turns out that Jesus died on His cross so that we’d have the nature to carry our own crosses, to deny our own personal agendas, to embrace our own suffering in His name.
It’s because we’re called to follow Jesus’ example in servant leadership, and laying down our lives, that I’d rather learn from MLK, St. Francis, and Henri Nouwen, than the well armed, well funded, religious machinery of our American culture.
Lamb power works, as all those I’ve named above would declared. They’d also say it’s difficult. But that shouldn’t be surprising because the one who paved the way sweat drops of blood in the garden, wrestling with submission to authority until he finally surrendered his own will to that of the Father. I for one, am glad he did.
Now it’s my turn.
O Lord Christ
You were more than a substitute. You were an example. Grant that I might live in such union with you that I’m empowered to say yes to your will, knowing that such a yes will require wrestling, self denial, even crosses. Forgive me for demanding my rights. Forgive us all for our unwitting lust to power, our complicity with violence, our propensity to save ourselves at the very moment when laying down our lives would create piercing light and life. Show us what it means to die daily, in order that we might live fully.