By, Isam Itson III
Ephesians 5:21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
In addition to practicing the expression of gratitude, as followers of Jesus Christ we have to practice mutual submission if we are going to be filled with the Holy Spirit and bring glory to God.
The Covid 19 pandemic has added a new category to society. The essential worker. Workers whose physical presence at the job site is critical for society to function. We have also learned that many of these essential positions have relatively lower rates of pay and are typically filled by people with lower social status. One of these categories is food distribution. What would we do without field laborers, food processors, warehouse workers, truck drivers, and retail grocery workers? We have learned that we are absolutely dependent upon people whom we are tempted to take for granted.
We always need other people. The ability to pay for a service does not make us less reliant on being served. When someone accepts responsibility for meeting our needs they are honoring God’s role as our provider. They are imitating God. Our ability to pay them does not negate our inability to meet our need all by ourself. The ability to pay does not make us independent. If we have the money but no service providers or caregivers, we are still helpless and desperate. Our lives depend upon the willingness of others to faithfully and gratefully honor our need for them and their need for us.
This is what makes honoring God so difficult for people who judge themselves and others by their relative wealth, poverty, influence, or power. It is too easy for them to forget their essential dependence and necessary interdependence. Our vulnerability as humans is not shameful, it is essential. It encourages us to take care of each other and do the best we can for ourselves. Because at any moment we can be the person in desperate need of help.
God addressed this fact most fully in the laws regarding sabbath and its ultimate expression in the year of Jubilee, in what we call the Law of Moses. Keeping the sabbath is the fourth law within the Ten Commandments. The law of sabbath was that every resident of the land of Israel took every seventh day off, to remember God’s supreme position as their creator and attentive ruler.
Even the servants, foreign laborers, and slaves had the day off. The sabbath day honors the fact that everyone in the land exists under God’s covering. God is the source, provider, and protector of their lives. He is their father, their god, and their king. Everyone’s life rests safely in the hands of God. God enables them to fulfill his purpose for their existence. They need to work. But God is their ultimate provider.
Additionally, every annual harvest was marked by days of consecration and special sabbaths. The Law of Moses in the Hebrew scriptures calls these “feast days”. The barley and wheat harvests marked days of remembering and thanking God for their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. If you have seen the films “The Ten Commandments” or “The Prince of Egypt” you are familiar with the story. The orchard, and vineyard harvests were celebrated every year with special days of remembering God’s miracles that protected them and provided for them while they travelled from Egypt through the desert wilderness for forty years until God led them into the land of Israel. The crops that kept them alive, fed their beasts of burden, provided extra income at the marketplace, and gave them the strength to work the land, were all recognized as gifts from God.
Every seven years the land was given a sabbath. The Israelites were instructed by God to not plant their fields. Whatever wheat or barley sprouted on its own was adequate for themselves and their livestock. But there was not going to be any grain available to trade or sell at market. Again, they were to trust that what God provided was enough to sustain their lives. In addition all monetary debts were cancelled or forgiven. And every seventh sabbath year (that is a Bible way of saying every 49 years) was designated a Jubilee.
The Jubilee took the most trust in God to honor. In addition to eating from what the land produced on its own, and forgiving any outstanding loans, the Jubilee also required that people who had sold the use of their family plot of land to others had to have their land returned to them. So if you fell on hard times you would not be perpetually dispossessed of your family land. If you were a member of one of the tribes of Israel you were always secure within the social fabric.
In a rural agricultural society like ancient Israel this was most beneficial because anyone could fall on hard times any given year. Illness, death, drought, storm, plague, infestation, foreign invaders, or simple mismanagement could all spell disaster for a family or a tribal province within the nation at any moment. The sabbath years and the Jubilees were meant to honor everyones place within the society. Every family necessarily contributed to and relied upon the contribution of others for their mutual well being. Their trust in God and each other was the source of their security. Not their ability to amass wealth, power, and influence.
The celebration of the weekly sabbaths, the annual feasts, the sabbath years, and the Jubilee, were all meant to strengthen and enrich their ties with God and each other. God was the core of their security, status, and identity as families and as a nation. Not their financial wealth, political alliances, or the strength of their military.
For the ancient Israelites the observance of the sabbath laws were disciplines that forged habits of faithfulness and gratitude in relationship to God and to each other on a personal, communal, and national scale. For followers of Jesus Christ, our essential dependence upon God and our necessary interdependence in relationship to each other is honored through our mutual submission to one another out of reverence for Jesus Christ no matter our national, ethnic, or cultural identity. Or our political affiliation.
This is how we act on our faith in Jesus Christ in relationship to each other as members of the body of Christ. Within the church, the body of Christ, we honor each other as fellow co-rulers with God. We consider each other as we stay focused on moving forward with God together. I honor the value that God adds to me through you. You honor the value that God adds to you through me. And we work together honoring God’s love for others in our surrounding communities. We do this out of reverence for Jesus Christ as our savior and king.
When I am helping you do what God has called you to do for the benefit of others, I follow your lead. When you are helping me do what God has called me to do for the benefit of others, you follow my lead. We are made to work together. God created us to serve and be served by each other as we honor God’s love, power, and faithfulness in the world around us.
Without this depth of mutual submission, honor, service, and consideration of one another as followers of Jesus Christ in our homes, churches, communities, and workplaces, our proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is meaningless and our lives have little to do with the Spirit of God. We are all essential to each other.