September 23, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Even if you’re not a geek like me, you can still probably recite the introduction to an episode of Star Trek, the Starship Enterprise’s commission to “seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one had gone before.”
But just as intriguing as the alien cultures they encountered was a particular principle they were committed to in the event of such an encounter. It was called the Prime Directive, and it mandated that there be no interference by a Federation starship in the social development of a previously unknown culture. No matter how troubled or errant a given society might be perceived to be, it was forbidden for crews like that of the Enterprise to engage in its epochal moments.
A recurrent subplot in Star Trek was the crew’s internal debate as to the wisdom of the directive: how could they stand idly by when they had the capacity—if not the obligation—to preempt events whose consequences would most likely be tragic? Although Star Trek took us to fantastical worlds, it explored very earthly realities.The crew’s turmoil over the directive resonates with our own ambivalence about getting involved in another’s need. Should we become involved in another’s consequential moments, or should we best stay out of it?
That’s one challenge we face in living among those unlike ourselves, but that’s not the only one.
Last year Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert released their book, When Helping Hurts. They acknowledged the abiding and abundant need for intervention in the plight of so many among us and far from us. But they also identified what can go wrong when aid is misplaced, no matter how noble the intentions. Unless we understand the difference between relief, rehabilitation, and development, we can unknowingly reinforce an unhealthy dependence and deepen an unrelenting shame. Where Star Trek exposed our ambivalence to involvement, Corbett and Fikkert awaken us to the equally unproductive impulse of rushing in to help unreflectively.
Last Sunday, Mark made plain to us another dimension of Jesus’ humility—this time in His incarnation. Incarnation may be a word as foreign to us as hyperdrive. We know from its root that it means Jesus came to us in the flesh, but it deals with more than the form in which He appeared. The humility of His incarnation was in the expression of identification. He came and dwelt among us, the apostle John says (1:14). Setting aside the privileges of divinity without divesting Himself of such, He walked in our shoes, submitted to our constraints. He inhabited our condition not to study us, like an ornithologist studies the migration patterns of swallows, but to take our burden upon Himself in order to relieve us of it. He became like us so that we might become more like Him. Only by humility would He identify with us to such a degree.
Study His words and actions closely and you find no ambivalence in His willingness to engage our condition. Even in the Garden when the pressure was greatest, the struggle to obey yielded to His love for His heavenly Father.
Meditate on His forays into humanity’s battle with sin, sickness, and the Deceiver, and you will notice no hasty movements, no ill-conceived plans. Though He invited one to follow Him who would later betray Him, even that was according to an eternally orchestrated plan.
The humility in Jesus’ incarnation challenges both our ambivalence and our hastiness. We cannot look long at Him and sit back; nor can we analyze His efforts for long and then rush in to help unreflectively.
What need have you hesitated to act on that the humility of Jesus now beckons you to step up? What effort have you engaged perhaps too hastily that the humility of Jesus now asks you to pause for a bit of reflection? Are my words contradictory here, exhorting you to both action and reflection? Or do they send us back to the One who called us to pray (Mt 6:5ff), and to ask for wisdom we do not have (Ja 1:5)?