Upside Down Kingdom
by Stephen Nelson
December 12: AM Psalm 31; PM Psalm 35; Isaiah 7:10-25; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5; Luke 22:14-30
“A quarrel began among them: which of them was to be seen as the most important?
‘Pagan kings lord it over their subjects,’ said Jesus to them, ‘and people in power get themselves called “Benefactors”. That’s not how it’s to be with you. The most important among you ought to be like the youngest. The leader should be like the servant.”
There’s a story I once read of a medieval Abbott* who was transferred to another monastery. The new monastery was apparently expecting a new dishwasher. When the Abbott arrived he was sent to the kitchen and told to wash dishes. He obeyed without complaint and became the dishwasher for several weeks. After word came back that the new Abbott had never arrived, the mistake was uncovered and the man who had been washing dishes for weeks was put in charge of the whole monastery.
I can only imagine how awkward it would be for every monk in that monastery to be spiritually directed by the man who only yesterday was scrubbing their pots and pans. It’s hard for us to believe the guy never spoke up and said, “don’t you know who I am?” Perhaps he understood Jesus’ radical call to humility better than we do.
Jesus had hardly taken a breath after telling his disciples about the coming kingdom and how his body would soon be broken for them when the disciples start fighting. They’re arguing about who’s going to be the greatest in the new kingdom. Remember, they’ve been with Jesus for years and this is their last night with him before his arrest. And despite all they’ve seen and heard, they still misunderstand him. They think the kingdom will make them royalty, and in a sense it will, but the world is upside-down in God’s Kingdom. The kings do dishes without complaint.
According to Jesus, it’s the humble who understand his sacrifice and his kingdom. In the words of Philippians, “Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christmas is a testimony to the humility of God. The King Jesus is not born in a royal palace, but in a barn to poor and socially-shamed parents in an oppressed corner of the world. He takes the form of a servant.
How are you serving God’s upside-down kingdom? Have you spent years with Jesus and still misunderstand your place? If you want to be the greatest follower of Jesus, look for humble ways to serve those around you.
* Leader of a monastery
Image by Justin Scott Campbell (used by permission via Creative Commons).