The word has come to mind often in these recent days. We have been subjected by this pandemic. We are subjected to isolation, subjected to disrupted rhythms, to say nothing of being subjected to fear and uncertainty.
These days have left us at the mercy of all that we can’t control, and it’s a shock to our system. After all, we are masters at being masters. We live in a world predicated on the belief that we don’t have to be subject to anything. Times like these, evil though they are, reveal just how illusory that narrative of control turns out to be.
As I make my way toward some new sense of normalcy, I have been remembering this week that although the word is so laden with negative connotations, there is goodness in subjection, sometimes. In Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts us to be subject to one another. In his first letter, Peter carries much the same message. For the earliest disciples, it was difficult to balance the incredible freedom offered by the grace of Christ with our holy obligation to place ourselves in willing subjection to Jesus and to others. Peter, for example, tells servants to be subject to their masters even when they are unjust. Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek when we are struck.
These words are difficult, and they are not made any easier when we are feeling forced to submit to a reality that restricts us. But I think if we will listen to our lives as we are placed in subjection and hear our cries, it will reveal the condition of our hearts. Do we cry out because our suffering helps us to more closely identify with the suffering of others? Are we led to understand and sympathize with those around us who are constantly subjected to poverty, distress, and poor health? Do we cry out for God to rescue and restore? Do we recognize and rightly admit the limitations of our abilities?
Or…are we fighting against our sense of self-diminishment, hating that we don’t get to dictate the rules for ourselves?
The great tragedy of our present condition and indeed of the human condition is that we are subjected to evil, which has power over us un these days. It’s no accident that Paul describes demonic forces as powers and principalities. But our quest is not to escape subjection and to become our own rulers. Instead, we are called to become subjects of a new kind of kingdom one that finds freedom in glad submission to the king and to those around us. The joy of the crowds in Jerusalem waving palm branches was a sense that finally, finally the true king had come.
It is my prayer that this time teaches us to be better subjects. Subjects of one another and subjects of the King. It’s also my prayer that we would grow more sensitive to the ways in which our world lives in subjection to sin and suffering.