“I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” ~ Jesus of Nazareth.
What startling words from our Lord! Jesus invites us to receive from him what the rulers of this age have desired throughout history: divine sanction, feasting in the hall of greatness, and the authority to sit in judgment. For those attracted to power, here at last is ultimate power. For those attracted to influence, here at last is the opportunity to produce lasting change. As followers of Jesus we can attain what kings and queens have long sought: true power, complete authority, and a place of lasting honor.
Imagine sitting in a banquet hall where every word, every gesture, every intention is reinforced with the authority of heaven. Politicians, generals, royalty, and despots should line up to curry favor with the King of kings. Every dreamer who envisions a better world should befriend the giver of true power. Artists who dare to hope that paintings, music or dance could capture the hearts of humanity should press in to this Kingdom table. Yet so few of them--so few of us--yearn for this feast. Why?
This majestic offer from Jesus comes at the end of a longer conversation, held on a remarkable evening: that night when the King of Glory was betrayed into the hands of men and led away to his death:
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God . . . Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22: 14-16 and 24-30)
On the night when Jesus gave us bread and wine, he taught (and showed) the meaning of mutual submission, and the secret to power—the kind of power built to last not for re-election, nor even a dynasty, but beyond the reach of time.
Why does the world equate submission with domination? Because the rulers of this age force others into submission: men over women, rich over poor, the learned over the ignorant.
More important for us: why does the church quarrel over leadership and church rules and gender roles in church structure? Is it because our standards for leadership are drawn from a source other than the Master’s? Women demand their place at the ecclesial table and fight for their rights; men appeal to a self-serving interpretation of holy scripture, insisting that God’s way look exactly like the world’s way through the ages. While claiming to be Benefactors, we actually reinforce the values of another kingdom, the dying kingdom.
And yet we have an example. The message is not theoretical or sociological. It is personal. It is addressed to each student of Jesus. Not a political model. Not a system of laws. Not method to be employed. We have a Person, One who submitted himself to others in order to liberate everyone. No one was more aware of the sin and limitations of mere men, yet Jesus stooped to serve them. No one is more aware of the frailty of those who lead God’s people than God himself, yet he placed his church in the hands of such people. His way is not political, nor ecclesial, nor economic. His way is the way of the basin and towel. His is the way of mutual submission so that everyone can find freedom. Perhaps this is why His servant, Paul, said, “Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ.”
The only true authority is the authority of compassion: the ability to suffer with others in a manner that shows the way to freedom. We are afraid of joyful, loving, mutual submission because we have not captured a vision of the Eternal Feast.