When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ – Matthew 20:24-28
As I write icons of Jesus on the cross, friends often ask me how I can spend so much time in contemplation of the crucifixion. Isn’t it morbid, even depressing, to create in line and color the details of his pain-wracked body? How can I do it over and over again?
It is difficult to talk about the wide embrace I find in Jesus’ outstretched arms, how in the icons his heart is exposed and how his pierced side seems so intimately linked with that compassionate, suffering center of him. The best I can do is to say he is as vulnerable as it is possible for a person to be. And, for that reason, this is my image of God: God is completely and utterly vulnerable.
As we watch atrocity after atrocity committed in our names by the people in power in our country, this image of total vulnerability can guide our response. After all, we are sanctified by Christ, called to follow where he leads us. We have been called out of the world to serve him.
We must put ourselves on the line for those who suffer, whose rights and well-being and even humanity are being stripped away from them. As Christians we are called to be their advocates, their defenders – their servants.
For many of us this may mean a trip to the border or to our local jails and holding facilities. It may spark us to find ways of providing sanctuary. It certainly will necessitate speaking truth, voting, and refusing to tolerate the erosion of our collective sense of moral right.
But the suffering of our neighbors also calls into question the fundamental strategies by which we live: consumerism, success through ruthless competition, investing in personal security at all costs. Contrast these practices with the utter vulnerability of the Way of Jesus, putting the needs of our neighbors first, being inclusive and sharing wealth, and opening our homes and our hearts, allowing ourselves to be absolutely overrun.
Whose servant am I?
Jesus’ followers, James and John, wanted to be lords in Christ’s kingdom. But Jesus proclaimed an upside-down confederacy. As those sanctified by him, each of us is challenged to cast aside our investments in a bit of land, wealth, success or glory. We are called out of this world. We are called to follow our utterly vulnerable God into chaos and danger, over and over again, even to the point of death. We are called to do this for the sake of “the Son of Man who gave his life a ransom for many”. We are slaves to this utterly vulnerable God of Love.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and writer living with her partner and sister in Fort Collins, Colorado.