The 40 days of Lent observed in Christianity begins with the story of Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. It is as if before Jesus began his ministry, he needed to go through a spiritual boot camp to withstand the onslaught of worldly temptations.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” (Luke 4:1-2)
When Jesus was most physically weak and vulnerable, the devil appears and tries to pull him away from his fealty to God with three temptations: economic, political, and spiritual. I will focus on the second temptation from the devil: political.
“Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5-8)
At the end, Jesus overcomes all three temptations thrown at him, including the kitchen sink, by the devil. “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13). It tells that the devil doesn’t give up in his battle for the soul of Jesus which requires eternal vigilance on the part of Jesus and therefore, us.
The war that is raging in Ukraine has brought to the fore the battle of the soul of the world with two competing forces: democracy and autocracy. Thomas L. Friedman wrote an editorial “Xi, Putin and Trump: The Strongmen Follies” that appeared in the NY Times, March 22, 2022.
“The last five years have been a master class in comparative politics, because something happened that we’d never seen before at the same time: The world’s three most powerful leaders — Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump — each took drastic steps to hold onto power beyond their designated terms of office. One failed. Two succeeded. And therein lies a tale that says so much about our world today.
Trump failed for one very simple reason: American institutions, laws and norms forced him to cede power at the end of his four years — barely — despite both his efforts to discredit the electoral results and his unleashing of supporters to intimidate lawmakers into overturning his loss at the polls.
Putin and Xi fared better — so far. Unencumbered by institutions and democratic norms, they installed new laws to make themselves, effectively, presidents for life. Pity their nations.”
Alternatives from these strongmen are President Zelensky of Ukraine and our President Biden. They have this sense of service and servanthood. They understand that their elected office is not to lord it over everyone but to serve the people. There is a sense of humility about them.
When Jesus’ disciples were quarreling who will be the greatest amongst them when Jesus comes into his kingdom, Jesus said to them:
“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 20:25-28)
Jesus modeled this servanthood to his disciples by doing the lowliest task of stooping down and washing every one of their dirty feet that have walked the dusty earth of Palestine.
“Do you know what I have done to you? If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
In God’s kingdom, “first shall be last and last shall be first.” In other words, what is essential to the world is not essential to God. And what is essential to God is not essential to the world. Imagine what our world could be if our world leaders adapted the spirit of humble servanthood.