Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
What are we to make of the fact that so often in the Old Testament we are admonished to fear the Lord yet in the New Testament Jesus instructs us repeatedly not to fear? Is this some kind of contradiction between the Old Testament and the New? Is there any way to reconcile these two apparently incommensurate teachings?
To be sure, it makes a great deal of sense to fear the Lord. We are talking about God, after all. And God is, if anything, completely other. We do not know the mind of God. Whenever human beings (thinking of the story of Babel here) have gotten it into their heads that they know God or, worse, know better than God, it has not gone well.
At the same time, as Jesus sought to teach us most powerfully through his own life and passion, if we want to know God, the unknowable, we have our clear model. And he is Jesus. And he is the God who absolutely and completely put himself forward in the most vulnerable way and, beyond that, endured the most profound humiliation and sacrifice . . . for us.
Too often, in the history of Christianity, people have become confused about what it means to be a Christian. They have confused themselves as followers of Christ with leaders in the name of Christ. They thought that they got God right—that they knew the mind of God. They came to believe that their mind was one with the mind of God. They knew what God wanted, required, demanded. And they lorded that “wisdom” over others.
They forgot the humility that Jesus so powerfully modeled in his entrance into Jerusalem—on the back of a donkey, of all things.
Could Jesus have made his point any clearer? The first shall be last. The Son of God shall not just die but shall be (at least on the face of it and at the time of his death) utterly humiliated, defamed, tortured, despised in ways unimaginable. And for what? For us.
To be sure, it’s tempting as Christians to think that we’ve got the secret. And we do, in a way. But our tragic mistake (made over and over by Christians throughout the centuries) is to imagine that having that secret makes us better. Special. Other than the rest. Whenever we think that, of course, we not only lose the secret, we transform it into an abomination.
All we have to do is spend a little bit of time reflecting on Jesus’ passion or reading the texts before us today (which anticipate his passion) to trouble all that. Whenever we might start feeling a bit heady about who we are as Christians (as people who have the secret and are specially privileged) all we have to do is remember what Jesus said—“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
If there is anything to fear, it is that we would become a people who ignores what Jesus taught. Put another way, if we are going to be so audacious as to claim to be followers of Jesus we had better be ready—even more, embrace—the place he embraced. As last, as servant of all. If, instead, we imagine ourselves to be above the rest, to be first in a worldly way, to be self-righteous . . . then, yes, we are right to fear God’s judgment.
God means it. If we are truly his then our task is not to put ourselves above others in any way. Our task is to serve. Praise be to God.
- Sue Trollinger