Hip hop and rap are mostly about dominance, not weakness. Video games are about almost nothing else. Trash talk in sports is the same thing — dominance. Look a bit below the surface, just a bit, and a great deal of the political discussion (especially as it relates to foreign policy) is about dominance. Bullying in schools. Social struggles and international economics – ditto.
Then Jesus pops up and says we should be attracted to him because he is meek and lowly. Because? How’s he going to sell something like that? When Jesus gives what sounds like a weird reason for becoming a Christian (honestly what sounds like a non-reason), there must be something going on.
Jesus says follow me because I’m weak? Is that what he means?
As a matter of fact, yes, that does seem to be what he means. Not weak in the sense of being afraid or unable to endure, but weak in the sense of not dominating other people. Weak in the sense of even turning the other cheek if someone slaps you.
He says this in Matthew 11. Jesus has been healing people left and right, yet these folks in Galilee will not accept his message to repent. It’s clear to everyone that Jesus is powerful, that he works miracles and teaches them in a new way. Everybody thinks it’s great to be healed and all that, but they will not accept Jesus’ message to change their life. The text implies he is angry with these stubborn people, but still he invites them to come to him in these gorgeous words:
Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
The message didn’t sell very well back then and it still doesn’t. Jesus says a person should follow him because he is gentle and humble in heart. And here’s what I think is most interesting – this is a guy with powers that are unparalleled in the universe. He can stop a storm with a word. Demons obey him. If a crowd is short on food or on wine, he can simply make some out of nothing. Sick? He can cure it. Dead? He can fix that, too. If ever there was a man who could have dominated if he wanted to, it was Jesus!
Yet rather than brag about these powers, and then put a big smackdown on his enemies, what Jesus does is stress his humility and his meekness. “Come to me… for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
It’s not just some line with him, either. Jesus definitely pays a price to live humbly. In Gethsemane, he allows the authorities to arrest him. Then he lets the Romans and Temple authorities shuffle him from one sham trial to another. Then he lets them torture him. Finally, he allows them to kill him in a horrible way. He could have stopped this anytime he wanted to. He has super-hero powers anytime he wants to use them. But he refuses to use these powers even though he deserves none of this because there is love in what he does, and mercy. It is his purpose to save us and somehow in a way known only to God all this torment allowed him to atone for our sins. But in addition to the love, there is also humility in this.
So what’s the “because” Jesus is talking about?
The power of humility lies in two things.
First, by being humble I allow you to be yourself. I allow you to come to me as you are. The humble person does not impose himself on others, he does not limit another person’s options by choosing to enforce his own will. Humility never is an aggressor in relations, never violates the rights or dignity of the other person. If you and I are somehow in relation to each other, my humility gives you choices even if those choices cost me something.
Jesus’ humility doesn’t mean he will not change us. After all, in the passage above from Matthew 11 he says that we will wear his yoke (which he says is easy) and we will carry his burden (which he says is light). He will change us, alright. He will change us into women and men who have learned to love the way he loves. We will learn to love with humility, without dominance. We will learn the thing that drew us to him in the first place and drew us as we were.
The second power of humility lies in groups of people and derives directly from this freedom it creates for the other person – when humility belongs to a number of people who are in relation to each other, then community can form between those people that is not based on authority or dominance, but is based on free association. Humility allows love to form between all the members of a group, because no one coerces another. To be sure, humility does not create love by itself, but it is the necessary ground within which love develops between the members of a group.
And now the shocking irony…
Jesus is the person most deserving of love ever to live. Plus, he possesses the wisdom of God and the power of God because he is God. Plus, he owns us because he made us. For that matter, we continue to exist for no other reason than that Jesus wills it to be so. Yet his love for us is so great and our dignity as humans is so significant that Jesus refuses to dominate us. He comes to us gently and humbly, so that he may draw us and we may come to him freely. His humility gives me power, power to begin my journey with him even when I am weak and then to become a child of God by loving God with everything in my being. His humility draws me as I am when I first encounter Jesus, it does not place demands I cannot meet. And this in turn lets God begin to mold me into the person I was meant to be. Then as I and others like me become like Jesus in this matter of humility, we are empowered to love each other precisely by the humility which God grows in each of us. Now church can form and can mature in the ground of the humility grown by Jesus in each of us.
Jesus takes us as we are. That’s humble.
As we become more like Jesus, we become humble.
And when we become humble like Jesus, we have power to love each other. That’s church.