Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All of Me

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

                        John 13.8-9

Resignation vs. Surrender

Most of us in the pre-MTV generation at least can hum our way through “All of Me”. Since its 1931 publication pop vocalists from Ella, Frank, Dean, and Satchmo to Willie Nelson and Pia Zadora have covered it. It’s a perky swing tune with a tart underbite. A discarded lover tells his/her ex, “You took the part that once was my heart. So why not take all of me?” The customary arrangement is up-tempo and frivolous, suggesting survivor’s bravado and painting the ex as a heel. But have you heard Billie Holliday’s 1941 recording? She slows the song down and polishes every word with pain. By the time she gets to the line “Can’t you see I’m no good without you?” the ache is wrenching. She exposes frailties the sassy lyrics mean to obscure. She’s mentally and emotionally depleted, and you can’t help thinking this an old, old song for her. Snappier versions come off like poison pen notes. Billie turns “All of Me” into a resignation letter.

Often (and rather oddly) I hear Billie’s “All of Me” when I’m drawn to contemplate total surrender. I’m not sure why her song should surface since there are so many truly moving hymns on the subject: “Take My Life and Let It Be,” “I Surrender All,” “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” and probably a dozen others. Thinking about surrender seems to trip my jukebox head to play “All of Me” in reminder of the big difference between passive resignation and full-on submission. Surrendering to God isn’t giving up or letting go. It’s giving in and taking on. When we bow to God’s will, surrender raises us. It lifts us out of ourselves and opens our eyes to a higher purpose. We see and experience ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Where resignation says, “No,” surrender says, “Yes.”

Immediate Reversal

Surrender is a tough concept, because it swims against everything we’re taught to survive and succeed in the world. Time and again Jesus refutes pragmatic notions about life with terse directives to surrender entirely to God’s plan. Every statement provokes head scratching among His listeners. They’re no less puzzling to us. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16.25) “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9.35) “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Processing these teachings demands faith, and after we get our minds to accept them, they still don’t reveal what surrender looks like or how it’s done. For that we go to the Last Supper, where Peter gets a crash course in surrender before our eyes.

The disciples gather to dine. It’s been a rugged week—a lot of tension in the air. In the middle of dinner, as if on a whim, Jesus leaves the table and commences to wash the disciples’ feet. This is most unbecoming, a servant or housewife’s task, nothing a man, let alone a rabbi, let alone Jesus, should lower Himself to do. When it’s Peter’s turn, he asks, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus says, “You don’t understand, but eventually you will.” No kidding, he doesn’t understand. Not long ago he confessed Jesus as The Christ. No way will he allow God Incarnate to stoop so low. “Absolutely not,” he says. “You’ll never wash my feet.” Jesus replies, “If I don’t do this, you’ll have no part with Me.” In an immediate reversal, Peter surrenders. “Don’t just wash my feet. Wash my hands. Wash my head.” Head to toe, top to bottom, all of me.

A Parting Gift

John begins his account with an intriguing observation. He writes, “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” (John 13.1) When Jesus kneels before the disciples one by one, He offers a parting gift, a final act of love and service to each of them. They don’t know it’s the last time Jesus will touch them, their last opportunity to feel His personal care. They won’t understand this until He’s taken from them. Much like Billie Holliday reverses the dynamic of “All of Me” to make it about her rather than her lost love, Peter steals focus from what Jesus wants to what he doesn’t want. He’s resigned to never know the love Jesus conveys in His humble gesture of servitude. Peter means well. He protests to prove he’s unworthy. But that’s the thing with resignation. It mistakes pride for humility and compromise for self-denial. Not so with surrender.

One of the most treasured legacies of my spiritual upbringing is this mantra: “Yes to Your will. Yes to Your Word. Yes to Your way.” Indeed, the awesome power and freedom that grows from saying yes was so integral to our faith very few services ended without singing “My soul says, ‘Yes!’” That’s all there is to the song. Yet it never grows old, because it epitomizes complete surrender. By surrendering, we ensure our place in Christ. We avail our lives to His touch. We experience His tender care. Once Peter grasped what he’d lose in saying “No,” he surrendered his will to Christ’s on the spot. “Yes! Wash all of me!” Complete surrender costs us nothing and provides us everything. It only takes a moment to say, “Yes.” What comes of that moment lasts forever.

Surrender says, “Yes.”

(Tomorrow: Brothers)

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