Digging in Deeper: Matthew 20:25-28

“Jesus called them over and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

This coming Sunday, Lord willing (and on here Monday), we are going to be talking about Paul’s words to the Ephesian church about marriage. One of the ideas he introduces there is that, in the Christian view of marriage, the husband is the head of the wife. Today is not going to be about that at all (stay tuned for Monday). Instead, something I’m going to say in an attempt to explain what this looks like through the lens of the Christian worldview as opposed to the lens of the world prompted another thought. I want to explore this in a bit more detail today than I will on Sunday as I offer a review of the latest Star Wars series on Disney+: Andor.

Andor took me longer than most Disney+ series have to get into the story. Now that I have, though, it may be one of the best things they’ve ever done. If I were to rank all of the Marvel and Star Wars series together so far (with the exception of the animated series, The Bad Batch, which I thought was really good in the first couple of episodes, but haven’t watched anymore of it), I would actually personally rank Andor just below Wandavision. It’s that good. The story started out slow, but has turned out to be absolutely gripping. The acting has been incredible. The production values have been top notch throughout. The soundtrack has been amazing. With the one caveat that it definitely isn’t a kid’s show (but more because of the grittiness than the level of truly objectionable content – it fits comfortably within the larger Star Wars PG to PG-13 framework), I would highly recommend it.

The series is a prequel to the 2016 Star Wars stand-alone movie, Rogue One, which itself was one of the prequel films to the original movie, A New Hope. The other was Solo: A Star Wars Story, but after it bombed, Disney gave up on making more, choosing instead to shift to their streaming platform to continue that particular line of storytelling. I’m glad they did. Andor has already been announced to include two 12-episode seasons – far longer than any other series they’ve done – and will end just before the events of Rogue One begin.

Although the true main character in Rogue One was Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso, the man who drew up the original plans for the Death Star, the Andor series follows Jyn’s primary ally and Rebel leader, Cassian Andor. Played by Diego Luna, Cassion Andor is a man with few real attachments to the world and a grim willingness to do whatever it takes to survive and to protect those people he has decided are his people. The whole thing takes place a few years before the events of A New Hope begin.

Andor grew up in an Amazon-like tribe on the planet Kenari. The tribe apparently consisted of only children – something the series has so far left completely unexplained. After a supply raid on an Empire ship that crashed near their village went badly, Cassian was rescued and adopted by Maarva Andor (who gives him his name), played by Fiona Shaw. The series opens about 30 years later with Cassion’s searching for information on his lost sister. His search takes him to a futuristic city with Blade Runner vibes and which is run by a corporation to which the Empire has outsourced not only resource production, but also territorial administration. A couple of goons working security for the corporation peg Cassion as an easy target to abuse and from whom to extort some credits. Unfortunately for them, he can handle himself just fine and after killing one of the men by accident, kills the other in hopes of covering up his tracks.

This murder attracts the attention of an over-zealous security investigator, Syril Karn, who begins a search for Andor (although not by name at first) in order to bring him to justice for the good of the Empire. His search eventually becomes the Empire’s own search after Andor joins forces with an early Rebel organizer, Luthen Rael (played by the wonderful Stellan Skarsgard) on what he thinks is going to be simply a big robbery job, but which is actually intended to be a shot across the Empire’s bow from the growing Rebellion. The rest of the series through the most recent and ninth episode is a big game of Cat and Mouse as the Empire flexes more and more muscle in an attempt to put down the Rebellion before it has a chance to grow any further.

While the Rebels have obviously taken a few shots at the Empire in the recent past, the job Cassion joins changes the whole calculus. He and the team to which he is assigned plan to steal the entire payroll for a whole section of the Empire, totaling tens of millions of credits, from its storage location on the planet Aldhani. In response, the Empire enacts a new law greatly increasing the penalties of any activities even perceived to be associated with any Rebel elements as well as giving itself vast new powers of surveillance and enforcement. Cassian, operating under an alias after the robbery on Aldhani, accidentally gets caught up in this new web, and what would have normally been a six-month sentence has become six years in a prison factory.

In nine episodes, we have come a very long way from where things started. I don’t get the sense we are ever going to go back and have those loose ends tied up unless that happens in the next season. In some ways, though, the lost plot lines actually fit the direction the story has taken, and the journey Cassian has been on so far. Along the way, we have been treated to a really interesting picture of leadership, power, and the famous Lord Acton quote that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The Empire is evil and corrupt. There’s no question about that. It is the perennial villain in every single Star Wars property. Even if it isn’t the obvious villain in a given story (The Book of Fett, for example), it is still there in the background. It creates the same kinds of problems every totalitarian government creates. It believes it can effectively dictate the lives of too many people (which it can’t), but its efforts create opportunities for enterprising folks willing to do whatever it takes to advance their interests and to live on the line between the law and anarchy to become fabulously wealthy and powerful through the forming of symbiotic relationships with the state. It also creates a citizenry that is cynical, amoral, and a constant powder keg of resentment that is always a single spark away from a full blown, violent rebellion. We often take Lord Acton’s rule to mean only that absolute power corrupts those trying to wield it, but as Jonah Goldberg points out in his book, The Tyranny of Cliches, it also applies to the people living under its authority. Just look at the way the average citizen in the Empire in any Star Wars story has been thoroughly corrupted by that cynicism, amorality, and resentment. Just look at the way the trio has corrupted so many lives in Russia or China over the last 100 years.

And yet, when you remove any trace of the Christian worldview from the picture, this is the direction human authority just nearly always goes. While there have occasionally been brief brushes with something like a representative democracy with checks and balances along with a free-market system that allows for genuine economic freedom and flourishing outside of cultures shaped by the Christian worldview, none of these have ever lasted for long. They all eventually collapsed into totalitarianism of one form or another; usually a violent totalitarianism at that.

This is all why Jesus looked at the disciples on this particular afternoon and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them.” He told them they knew this because…they knew it. They had seen it just like you have seen it. You have seen unbelievers in positions of power wielding that power like a tool for personal advancement. They have treated the people below them like insignificant specks who are there only to serve them and make their lives easier. It is frustrating. But when one group rises up to throw off these oppressors in a grand rebellion, they become the very thing they had once hated. Don’t believe me? Take a few minutes and study the French Revolution. The Jacobin Reign of Terror was far worse than anything the monarchy had ever unleashed on the people. The noble rebels simply became the new oppressors. They became the thing they once hated and lived down to those standards with all the glee of a pig in a mud bath. In fact, they exceeded them. That’s how power always operates absent the Christian worldview. Too often it is also how it operates among people claiming to be followers of Jesus but whose lifestyles put the lie to such claims.

It must not be like that among you.

Followers of Jesus are called to a different standard. The difference between one and the other is as radical as it could possibly be. One uses power and position in order to be served. We are called to use power and position for the precisely opposite purposes. For “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The example we have to follow is of a king who lowers himself to serve his people in the lowest, most humble places in order to raise them up to glory. We serve a King who gave His very life so that we might have ours back. What king has there ever been who was willing to die for his people but the King of kings? The path to greatness in the kingdom of God is one of service and humility. It is one of laying down our lives for the sake of the people around us. We take their needs and interests and treat them as if they are more important than our own. We leverage every advantage and resource we have for their benefit. We do all of this and more because it is what Jesus, our Leader, did. He set the pattern. We are merely following.

There is somewhere in your life in which you are a leader. The number of people following your lead may not be very large, but whether it is one or one thousand, you are leading. In your efforts at leadership, you have two paths to follow. One is the path of the world. This is the path of the Empire in Star Wars. Here, you put your interests first, and while you might help those beneath you to see their needs met, deep down, you are really using them as a means to your own, personal ends. What those might be doesn’t really matter. The point is that you are using the people you are leading for your own benefit. Even if you are only trying to lead one person, that path will create in them attitudes of cynicism and resentment. Your relationship will not be one that will bring life to you or them. It will make both of you miserable.

The other path is the path of Christ. In order to follow this path, you will have to be ready to lay down and sacrifice your desires and interests. You may not see them fulfilled. Ever. You may have to give them up entirely. It won’t be comfortable and will sometimes even be excruciatingly difficult. You’ll have to put the people following you first even when you don’t want to. You’ll have to serve them when you don’t like them. You’ll have to commit yourself to their good even when they don’t fully understand what their good is and fight you over it. They may reject you. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But the end of this path will be the glories of God’s kingdom both for them and for you. It will be a growing Christlikeness in both of your lives that will be to His glory and your joy. It will be incredibly strong relationships rooted in unwavering trust and mutual love. It will create more leaders who follow the same pattern in their lives leading to more happy outcomes in more places for more people. It won’t always or even often be easy to take this path, but it is the right one all the same. Commit to walking it today.

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