My Nana tied my shoes most mornings before school. This started in kindergarten. I can’t remember when it stopped. My parents had concerns that it might not. I was never too worried about it. I knew I had to grow up. Some things you simply must do for yourself.
Yet the kind of self-motivation and self-sufficiency required for tying shoes has its limits. Some things you must do for yourself, but some you can’t. A collect for Compline prays this well.
“O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Our sufficiency has limits; our dependence has no end. We glimpse this in Christian teaching on creation and salvation. No one creates himself. No saves himself. Even baptism is not self-administered. Brought to eternal life and grafted into the Body of Christ, no member, no organ or limb, exists for itself.
Yet we enjoy limited sufficiency. Each member, each organ, must fulfill its God-given design. It must tie its own shoes. The eye must see; the hand must grasp. This is our glory, a glory that tempts us to pride. So Jesus delivers us from this temptation by his teaching and living.
His disciples need this help. Their arguments begin after the Transfiguration, a clear symptom of their relational sickness. It lingers, festers, and surfaces after the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday.
“A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you.’”
These are saving words from Jesus. “But not so with you, rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
Jesus is the head of his body, the church. As the head of his body, he lives among us as we must live in him. “I am among you as one who serves.” He guides the limbs and organs of his body into the only safe way we can fulfill and enjoy our unique and vital function. He trains us for authority exercised in his way. He orders our relationships in mutual submission and service. We are graced to do for others what they may never safely do for themselves: show preference in honor.
I tie my son’s shoes. He can tie them by himself. Not quickly, so I help sometimes. I enjoy it. I do it as a tribute to my Nana. I do it for training in my work as a disciple, husband, father, and pastor. I’ll quit tying them someday. I’ll have to. But I must never quit practicing the way of Jesus.
“Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”