06 Aug The Upside Down Kingdom
A ubiquitous phenomenon
The norm of this world is domination; either self-seeking acts or good acts are performed for self glorification. We have to be cautious and respond because this has infiltrated the Church, the Body of Christ.
Pastors queue up to get a chance to speak at funerals, marriages or other public meetings. Achens and Bishops look forward to the envelopes that are handed to them at the end of public functions, adding to the everyday burdens of the laity. Elders of one church look down on the other, smug in their doctrinal superiority or lack of tradition. We see how dominant behaviour has become an institutionalised phenomenon within our churches. And the laity, including you and me, joins this worldly pattern in our own individual ways. Donations are engraved, acts of service are showcased, and opportunities for power and authority are the eagerly sought after.
The increasing pervasion of self seeking behaviour is saddening. Class divisions of leadership and laity are misused for domination of leadership over the laity. Leadership is seen more as an authority to be exercised rather than as a responsibility to be fulfilled. More saddening is the caste divisions that have crept inside the churches where instances of denial of Lord’s Supper to Dalit converts are common.
The big question is whether these patterns are creeping into UESI family.
The early church
The early church also had these challenges where the world and Word collided within the Body of Christ. The battle between flesh and Spirit regarding self-seeking behaviour was prevalent then as well.
The infamous conversation between the mother of Zebedee’s sons and Jesus in Matthew 20 as well the tussle between the disciples in Luke 22 draw attention to how we all are vulnerable to the lure of power and greatness.
When the Corinthian church was influenced by false preachers through their boasting of great achievements and spiritual experience, Paul critiques the Church with strong language in 2 Corinthians 11.
Jesus on the Colt
It is in these contexts that the imagery of Jesus on a colt becomes highly relevant. During the 1st Century AD, Jews looked forward to the coming of a political Kingdom that would liberate them out of the Roman oppression through the Messiah. But the restoration envisaged by Christ undertook a different path – a restoration through other centric, self-giving love. He inaugurated an upside-down Kingdom where the Kingdom expanded through the self-sacrificing love of Christ rather than with arms and wars. A kingdom where service is the expected attitude, submission is honourable and Servanthood is the norm.
This imagery strengthened on the day of Passover, when Jesus the Lord of lords and the Prince of Peace, entered Jerusalem on a colt. A colt which embodied values of humility, weakness and servitude gave this fallen world a glimpse into how the reality of the new Heaven and new Earth is.
Paul boasting of weaknesses
In 2 Corinthians 11, when Paul saw the divergent pattern of the Corinthian church, he boasts of his weaknesses including his struggle to bring down his own self and give glory to God. He presents himself as a servant of God and of his fellow beings where he shows that the self-giving love is to be vulnerable to fellow beings.
Here we will look into the meaning of the word ‘servant’. If the word servant means ‘one that performs duties about the person or home of a master or personal employer’; we are called to be faithful servants who will rule over this world of the Great Creator, taking care of its occupants with great stewardship.
Jesus and Paul redeem the idea of servitude and make it a powerful tool to express who God is and how the coming Kingdom looks like.
Building the Upside-down Kingdom
As believers within the church as well as those in the marketplace, if we fail to discern the silent influence of the fallen world in our day-to-day lives, we are failing to seek His Kingdom. I would love to address a few areas where we can improve as the body of Christ in terms of Servanthood.
Family is the first institution where the spotlight could be turned to. The husband is called to love his wife just like Christ loved the Church. Am I as a husband serving my wife and children in kitchen, in their pain, in their weaknesses?
Within the walls of the church, can there be conscious attempts to break class differences between leaders and laity? Or are full-time ministers meant to be kept on the pedestal? Within the laity, do our churches have people from a similar financial background or are there laymen who are both rich and poor? Are some of us unable to accept them who are not very well-mannered or less polished in their behaviour amidst our congregations? Let us remind ourselves that we the church, the hands and feet of God, are called to be a community of self-giving love, serving the rich and poor, men and women, young and old, all alike.
We are called to be servants not just in the church but also in the marketplaces. A story about Dr. Kalam reminded me of this attitude. He was known to push his team forward in front of the public when they achieve a success and put him first when they faced a failure. Do we do these in our office spaces or are we projecting our own self-image for the successes of our team? Are we taskmasters as bosses or are we coaches who facilitate fruitful work, shouldering the subordinate when he is overloaded. Do we load our subordinates with 110% as the world teaches or are we gentle with them?
Having said these, let us analyse some implications. The story of the Good Samaritan teaches us to put ourselves in our neighbour’s context, thereby identifying with them. When we do this, we face a real risk of being hurt, cheated, ill treated or even mocked. Every act of Servanthood need not be welcomed by the recipient and that was the experience of Christ too. He incarnated among us lowly beings, into our fallen contexts and served us only to be killed by our own hands. Thus serving our neighbour could be a call to be vulnerable and let us not be disappointed, for Christ has led the way.
Another implication of Servanthood is that it’s more of an attitude to be imbibed than a rule to obey. The servant Jesus spoke with righteous anger and Paul disciplined strongly when required. Thus Servanthood is just one aspect along with the many other facets of Christianity. Let each student and graduate imbibe this core value among the other core values in a more meaningful way and expand the upside down Kingdom more profoundly in the days to come.
“A faithful servant may be wiser than the master, and yet retain the true spirit and posture of the servant. The humble man looks upon every, the feeblest and unworthiest, child of God, and honors him and prefers him in honor as the son of a King.” ― Andrew Murray, Humility
Dipin V Panicker is working with ESAF, Thrissur and is part of Thrissur EGF, Kerala