Authority. What ideas or images come to mind when you see that word? For me, it’s usually “abuse, misuse, evil,” each accompanied by multiple scenes from my own life and the culture at large. One word I’ve NEVER paired with authority is “humility” — yet in today’s passage, Jesus shows us this word is vital to our redemption and understanding of this concept.
In John 5:19-24, Jesus faces the Pharisees, who are looking for a reason to kill him. He’s just healed a man who’s been clinging to hope of a miraculous healing for 38 years. But he healed on the Sabbath. This healing and Jesus’ continual references to God as his Father are crimes worthy of death.
When the Pharisees have him cornered, Jesus does a surprising thing. Rather than fire back at his questioners with a list of credentials, justifications, or accusations, he points them to the Father and His love. In yet another example of Jesus renewing the broken, human order of things, he defines authority by submission and utter dependence. He says, “the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” (John 5:19-20)
Since Adam and Eve first tasted the forbidden fruit, humans have had a broken understanding of authority. But Jesus shows us that to have power is to be a servant. In Philippians 2:6-8, we read that Jesus, “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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In Hebrews 1:2-3, we see that the one “whom he [God] appointed the heir of all things…is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of His power.” This one now stands toe to toe with those seeking to kill him, feeling all the trappings of humanity — hunger, thirst, fatigue — and says, essentially, “I’m a mirror. I do everything the Father does.”
Do we recognize the privilege of joining the Father in His work, as Jesus did? In this season of Lent, do we examine our thoughts, words, and deeds and find them full of humility? Are we motivated by God’s love for us and our status as co-heirs with Jesus, or do we seek temporal, superficial authority? Do we treat those weaker than us with humility, kindness, and love, or do we savor a chance to show our strength?
May our prayer this Lent echo John the Baptist’s in John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Hilary Van Wagenen is a professional music nerd and book lover who lives with her husband, Tom; son, Peter; and two muppety dogs, Hamish and Rosie, in Silver Spring.