We are servants and strangers. And this is a tough thing to swallow for people who want to be royals and celebrities.
There’s an imperial urge to each of us humans. We assemble our own empires around ourselves, some of them small and some of them large. But in each one, we reign supreme.
Years ago, my wife worked for a small cafe. The owner and his wife (I write it this way, because he was definitely the owner and she was one of his employees) ran the shop and employed three young women alongside them. This was Ed’s kingdom. It was a tiny realm, consisting of just four subjects and a few hundred square feet of kitchen and dining space, but that’s all he needed. Though large of belly, he was a small man in almost every other way. But he had his kingdom.
As sad as Ed was, he is not unique. In fact, we all are an Ed in one way or another. Or at least, we easily can become so.
In the Gimel section of Psalm 119 (vs. 17-24), the unnamed author refers to himself twice as “your servant.”
Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word. (v. 17)
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees. (v. 23)
Against this royal aspiration infecting our human hearts, the psalmist asserts servanthood.
God is King, and I’m not. Jesus proclaimed God’s kingdom as his central message, not mine. And it stings.
Obedience is required in this kingdom, but it’s not obedience to me, it’s obedience by me. Again, it stings. My ego is pricked and popped. All of the hot air rushes out.
But it’s in this that I discover something bigger and more wonderful than myself and my royal bubble. My stuck-shut eyes are opened up and I see things I hadn’t seen before in my self-obsession.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law. (v. 18)
The purpose of God’s law is to enable us to see beyond ourselves. We see others. We see God. And in the seeing of others and God, we have the ability to enter into a larger, expanded world. And it’s a world of wonders abounding.
Entering into this expanded world makes us strangers to our neighbors who continue to live in cramped kingdoms of Self. We cease to fit in as our larger God-shaped lives are hidden from the sight of our co-workers. And as we explore this much bigger world of God, we know there is still yet more to be seen. But our royal Self still casts a shadow, obscuring God and hiding his world from our eyes. And yet, having tasted of this bigger world, we crave more of God and God-revealing laws.
I am a stranger on earth;
do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times. (vs. 19-20)
But this makes us no friends. In fact, we earn enemies who feel judged by our larger-world God-orientation. And so they call us crazy for seeing what they don’t see and hateful for living according to laws that undermine their Self-empires.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed,
those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt,
for I keep your statutes.
Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees. (vs. 21-23)
The response to this isn’t to ditch the words of God which have changed our orientation. The response is to redouble our meditation of God’s decrees. For contrary to what we’re accused of, these words of God don’t make us crazy or hateful, they make us sane and loving. They lead us on the path of wisdom and generosity. They are good counselors which teach us the very best kind of life possible. Because they open up delight, they are themselves a delight.
Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors. (v. 24)
And so, we discover it is no small and poor thing to be a servant or a stranger. It is a hard but beautiful life and grows larger by the day.
Questions for reflection:
Where am I carving out my own little kingdom of Self? At home? At school or work? Online?
How might being God’s servant be more liberating than being my own king?
How do the Scriptures open up God’s kingdom in a delightful way?
Transform me, Lord, from petty king to large-loving servant. Open up my heart that I might take delight in your statutes, even if they make me a stranger in this self-obsessed world. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.