Joy! Better Than Fragility
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Incomparably more glorious than Rome, is that heavenly city in which for victory you have truth; for dignity, holiness; for peace, felicity; for life, eternity.
City of God, 2.29, Augustine
We are all proud. Did I say that again? Our fragility displays it. I’ve heard the phrase ‘white fragility.’ I honestly don’t know or care that much about it. Perhaps it is because I myself am arrogant, but I find that every human in our day is fragile, and it is because we vest too much in the glory of ourselves (as though we have something of it). Ever since I was young I have run into two related problems in my own life. First is my self-concern, and second is that others almost treat me as a pariah when I say things that push them off kilter. In some ways I’ve come to terms with the latter more easily than the former. Maybe you could call me a lateral thinker and ADHD so that I don’t particularly connect the same dots that everyone else does in the same way that they do. Of course, this can also exhibit itself in foolishness and carelessness on my part.
As a child, my parents said two things that were pride killers: ‘don’t defend yourself’ (mostly my dad), and ‘careful, not careless’ (mostly my mom). What if you’re right? Don’t defend yourself. What if you have a case against the other person? Don’t defend yourself. What if we could make it all better if everyone understands one another (and therefore I am justified)? Don’t defend yourself. I’m not sure I parent this way, but it teaches us all a lesson: we each value our own opinion too much (oddly my siblings and I are especially characterized as being opinionated). Also, I broke many things and have tons of stitches on my face from my carelessness. The times I got in trouble at school, I had no idea my words meant what the other person interpreted them to mean. So I’ve had to train myself quite a lot with my words and actions, denying my natural bent for the care of others. You all know how imperfect I still am on this front. By God’s grace, he has grown me up a bit. I’m not as humble as I ought to be though.
In the world around us, we see everyone getting bent out of shape when their toe gets stepped on. In Christian twitter this week, there was a mud slinging fest where people were defending themselves and inadvertently displaying what has now become acceptable pride. In our relationships, we interpret disagreement as if it was a denial of our self-hood, who we are. Now we might just think that this is the problem in the world out there, but we should be especially concerned with it in here, in our own hearts. I know when Ami and I were first dating, we ran into the belief that disagreement with parents was paramount to dishonor and was almost violently disapproved of. Can we imagine a world where churches aren’t homogenized by different affinity groups? They shoot guns at that church. They have a private school there. They home school there. That is a republican stronghold there. That church is concerned about social justice. Are we able to disagree about lesser issues that aren’t in the doctrinal confession of the church or do we simply go where it is easy? There isn’t an easy answer here because nearly every American church has drifted towards being defined by what they think is glorious. We can put a lot of pride into our political opinions and find quite a bit of meaning there. And also in our hobbies and our families and the place we call home.
Now I think there is an especially potent antidote to our heart’s foolish pride. That is found in our passages above. In Luke 17, Luke shares this weird teaching of Jesus that cuts to the quick. It’s a bit offensive. Imagine you’re a slave, your job is to serve your master. You take care of the fields, you make dinner. Don’t think you’re all that just because you have done what is your duty. You have done what you were supposed to do. Great! The glory of it all, if I could add to Jesus’ words, is that you are a slave to the king. You serve the Almighty who is good to his servants! You go around the market, and you don’t strut your stuff as though your glory is yourself. No! You go out and about and say, ‘My master is the most glorious and loving king a person could ever serve! What a privilege.’ But all too often, we are like those Romans pointing to the glory of the Forum Romanum. ‘See, there is the Capitoline. Oh, what glorious things have happened here! Oh, what famous men have stepped foot over there.’ And we join with the throng, ‘Oh, how great is my home, and its paint colors.’ ‘Oh, I am resting in the joy of my bed and home that I have purchased.’ ‘Oh, how lucky my children are to have had the education I’m giving them.’ And where is our humility? Do we acknowledge God in it all? I have labored to encourage others to rest in the gospel. Perhaps we have never tasted and seen truly that the Lord is good. But with all my pleadings and counsel, only God, even through my servitude, will make blind eyes see their sin or know that glory of the gospel.
Imagine if Billy Graham took the credit for those who came to Christ through his preaching. In the history books, they will say, ‘He preached to millions.’ They will say, ‘Many thousands if not millions came to Christ through his preaching.’ I would hope Graham would distance himself from such commentary. No. No. It is all of Christ.
You see, we are servants of God, we are sons of the living God, and this is enough. Repent of the pride that seeks to make much of yourself and your opinion and that is injured when others don’t affirm that. Listen to the work of Jesus from Isaiah 61, ‘…to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.’
The glory of fellowship with Christ kills the pride in myself. The result is manifold: when someone disagrees with me, I consider myself. When someone attacks my thoughts, I am satisfied in my position in Christ. In him, I have entered the heavenly Zion, where ‘for victory you have truth; for dignity, holiness; for peace, felicity; for life, eternity.’ I work and rest, and look forward to my eternal rest.