The young, black valet wishes me a good morning then decides to motivate me for the day as I walk down the sidewalk toward my day of scribing. “Remember,” he cheerfully calls after me, “your attitude determines your altitude!”
Immediately, the irony of those words on this day hits me. On this day, we remember how Jesus’s attitude determined, not his ascent, but his descent. Driven by his love.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
This in mind, I am struck by all the human effort to achieve altitude in this city. Buildings tower over me. Almost humorously, a giant, animated ad in Times Square shows me an SUV climbing up the side of one of them. We are driven to make ourselves rise.
I think about Paul’s words and how Jesus was driven to sink. Down from his exalted place in the heavens. Down to human form. Down to the level of a servant. All the way down to the cross.
The more we humans achieve wealth and status, the more we want to rise above the rabble. We reserve the top floor of apartment buildings and hotels for the uber-rich, the celebrities, the powerful. As if privilege should shield us from the rest of humanity.
Jesus could have come down only to the level of the penthouse. That’s how we would have planned it: heaven’s emissary in sheltered confabs with the earthly elite. Converting the powerful first, in a kind of trickle-down salvation.
But he had a different plan. He went street-level. Down to the ground, where he could bring the coming Kingdom to those who knew their need.
To the lame.
To the suffering.
To the marginalized.
In Bryant Park, I frame the buildings in my camera. When I see how the trees interfere, I walk to where I can get the branches coming in from all angles, almost upstaging the buildings. For the trees seem to be much like the work of the cross: salvation brought from the bottom up – the very Son of God dying on a cross on our behalf, raised in triumph and now empowering his people to transform the world.
Not through an attempt to rise, but – in the footsteps of our Savior – seeking to serve.
Jesus, how grateful we are that you did not come to seek the powerful, but to seek and save the lost. For we know how lost we would be without you. Help us to meditate on the wonder of your love shown through the cross. Transform us by it. And send us out in your name to serve.