Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lent Day 37 - The Way Up is Down

Read Matthew 20:20-28 

Growing up, my brother and I were intensely competitive. Whether it was basketball, ping-pong, or board games, each of us wanted not only to beat the other, but destroy him in the process. Along the way, we discovered ways to emphasize the score when we happened to be on the winning end. One of favorite things to do during a game of checkers came from an early episode of The Cosby Show. Rudy, the youngest of the Huxtable clan, is only about five or six and challenges her older brother Theo to a game of checkers. Theo doesn’t really want to play, he’s got more important things to do as a teenager, but agrees anyway. At first, Theo puts it to Rudy jumping quite a few of Rudy’s checkers, but he is soon distracted by some of the other family events about him. All the while Rudy stays focused on the game. Eventually she sees her chance and seizes it. Jump. . . double jump . . . triple jump and then the now famous line, “King Me! King Me! King Me!” At least it is famous in the Sandlin household. My brother and I both loved to be able to yell that line at each other.

Most of us like to be the king. Maybe we don’t want to be king of the world, but all of us want to be numero uno at something. Whether it’s being the leading salesman or the best athlete or the gal with the most Facebook friends, we want to stand out; we want to be noticed; we want it to be our name on people’s lips. Our attempts to get to the front of the line can be innocent enough. Often we get there fair and square. Sometimes though, if we’re honest, we bend the rules to our advantage. Either way, rarely does our climb towards the top occur without some collateral damage. We trample on another person’s feelings, or interests, or rights in order to steal the spotlight, to grab the headlines, or to guarantee the promotion. Not that any of us would admit to such blatant disregard for others. As Phil Lineberger, pastor of Sugarland Baptist Church once said in a sermon, “We all want to be great, but we don't want folks to know we want to be great.” So we become masters of subtle self-promotion, but don’t be deceived, we all are looking for our own chance to yell “king me.”

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. Those who saw Jesus on that day may have thought that’s exactly what he was doing – grasping for power. As far as they could tell, Jesus had been jockeying for position for a few years now. They’d heard the reports of large crowds and miraculous healings. There were even a few rumors of mass feedings. He seemed to have everything in place for quite a run. He still had quite a few hurdles to jump. Mainly Roman hurdles, but the people longed for liberation and thought Jesus might just be the one whose shouts of “King Me! King Me!” could bring an end to the Roman occupation. So the people shouted and laid their coats at his feet because they could see that Jesus was a man on the move.

 Jesus was on the move that Palm Sunday long ago, but not in the direction of the people’s expectations. He wasn’t on the way up, as they hoped, but the way down. He wasn’t grasping for power but letting go. At least, that’s how Paul would describe Jesus’ journey a few decades later when he wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” In other words, Jesus was showing us that the way up, is actually the way down. The path to a God kind of power isn’t in figuring out how to be the king, but in following the King who gave up his glory to serve us all.

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many – Matthew 20:26-27.

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