Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash
Our church is walking through the Gospel of John from January 1 through Easter, and Thursday morning’s passage finds Jesus turning over tables in the temple. It’s a striking image, one we often associate with the idea of righteous anger. That’s the temptation with anger: to believe it’s righteous when it’s my own, but not when it’s someone else’s.
That story comes one day after everything at the Capitol. “Everything” is the best word I’ve got.
The few hopeful moments I felt yesterday came in some form of, “Maybe this will do it.” The images from the Capitol, maybe those will be enough. The level of surreal shot to the top of a crowded leaderboard. Maybe that recognition – that this should not be real – will be enough. Maybe things can begin to move in a different direction. Maybe.
It’s always maybe.
The name of Jesus was on display there too. The first one I saw actually made me laugh initially, the giant JESUS 2020 banner (it’s hard to find images of these to post here that don’t come with their own commentary, understandably so).
I don’t believe he was on the ballot, of course. And while I don’t know who was responsible for that banner, and would be interested to hear their thought process…if the larger theme of the rally was re-electing TRUMP 2020, that seems to be a conflict of interest. “Jesus for president, but also the incumbent!”
(This made me think of the SNL Superfan Ditka sketches:
“Bears vs the assembled choir of heavenly angels?”
“…angels, but it’s close.”
“Alright, Ditka vs God in a golf match. Now, he’s a good golfer…”)
The other one I saw simply said, “JESUS SAVES.”
This appears to be the work of Sam Bethea from Charlotte, a regular downtown fixture with that same message.
Mr. Bethea’s thoughts here echo the sentiment of seeing that sign in the midst of that everything: Jesus saves…but not like this.
We use the image of Jesus turning over those tables most often when it suits us, suits our own anger. I think the better choice, if we’re bringing Jesus into this, is always to invoke not a few verses but the larger picture of who he is:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
It’s in the very nature of Jesus – in the very nature of God – to be self-sacrificial. To empty yourself. To lay yourself down.
I made a C+ in the servant leadership class in seminary, so what do I know. It was one of those online classes where you do x number of message board posts per week, plus respond to at least two others, plus respond to every response on your own posts. I remember emailing the professor with all the self-importance of someone in their 20’s, telling him how as a full-time pastor I just didn’t have time for all of that every week. So C+ sounds about right. I did get to write a research paper on Chick-fil-A, so it wasn’t all bad.
And I did learn enough to know we often base our entire thinking on servant leadership from another story of Jesus from the Gospel of John, where he will wash his disciples’ feet.
For us, this is most often a story we encounter once a year during Holy Week. I can assure you the lowest attended worship service of the year is the one that involves foot washing. I don’t think this is because we want to keep our distance from the idea of service as much as we want to keep our distance from the intimacy it involves. But just as it’s easy to skip the Maundy Thursday service, it’s also easy to leave the idea of servant leadership there, one day a year, one story. Pat ourselves on the back for a good thing we did for someone “lower” than us, and move on.
But servant leadership – and Jesus – are much more about a consistent identity of self-sacrifice than a single act of stooping low.
Jesus comes to lay himself down. You cannot skip to the second half of that Philippians passage – the one where every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord – without going through the cross. The cross is self-sacrifice. The cross is Jesus telling his disciples to put away their swords. The cross sharing in his death, so that we might share in his life. Lay yourself down.
Jesus saves…but not like this.
In this sense, one of the holiest things about Chick-fil-A is that they’re closed on Sundays: not because it allows their employees an opportunity for rest and corporate worship, but because in doing so they set aside the opportunity to make more money. They set themselves down.
Maybe it will be different going forward. Maybe this notion that we should govern based on the terrible things we’re told the other party would do if they were in charge will go away. But I’m afraid little will change, even after days that should not be real, if we fail to find true servant leadership.
The good news is still good: in this Jesus, we have more than enough grace. It’s always maybe from there. It’s always up to us.
I have no idea if we’ll find it in Washington. The best we can do is find it in our own communities. To hold fast to the stubborn belief that there is something bigger than us going on here, that our lives are about more than just us. To stop chasing power and holding on so tightly, and to embrace the cross…because I believe that is still the only way we truly embrace life.
Jesus saves, but not by sword. By sacrifice.