To Bow. Have you ever performed this act to another? What does this mean to you? For some it might conjure images of cultural greetings. For others, pictures of heads of state as they extend handshakes and nod. For others, a polite curtsy. Ponder the significance of this peculiar act of deference.
The literal definition has many applications that we are all familiar with though we often do not associate many of them with modern necessity. I cannot actually recall the last time, if ever, that I bowed to another human being other than to take a knee to my bride when I proposed to her. For most of us, the physical act of bowing to a person rings of defeat and serfdom and this does not sit well. Ponder the definition.
To bow is to show reverence, recognition, and acknowledgement. To bow is to yield, or submit. More in line with conflict, to bow is to be forced into a position of subjugation or even to be crushed. We prefer the polite niceties of the first while obviously desiring to avoid the ramifications of the latter. In fact, the whole of bowing should be left to social graces devoid of any depth of personal investment or cost to self. Yet each of us could probably imagine a historical figure or two who was forced onto their knees by a conquering power to acknowledge supremacy. This loss of control is probably what is most intimidating about the word, for to truly bow to another is to yield oneself to the temperament, preferences, and power of that individual.
In the case of many around us, we would often refuse this kind of submission unless deep trust had been established. No one wants to fall backwards unless they know a network of interwoven arms is there to catch them. But what of the powerful, the mighty, those imbued with seemingly everything necessary to charge forth and rule their world. Do we ever picture the need for them to bow to others? Do we ever see them brought low in subservience as a necessity for their position, their influence? Historically I do not.
Historically, I envision this to be the antithesis of the powerful. Gazing upon those listed as great and mighty amongst the "conquerors" and "shapers" of history I see very few, if any, notes of those who created empires, shaped continents, and altered their times by yielding to the passions of others except in the name of self interest or personal appetites. "Self serving" more characteristically defines the interests of these individuals. Whether it be to etch a name for self or for nation in eternity, most who expanded empires, grew nations, conquered countries and dominated economies did so on their feet and rarely if ever bowed the knee.
Everyone of them, though, shared this commonality; they each ultimately bowed to the pull of death's indomitable tug upon this flesh. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, each bowed as they stepped into eternity as we all must. Many were acutely aware of this inevitability and strove to outlast their own lives in stone and deeds remembered. Many disillusioned believed they were beyond the power of the grave and through mysticism and myth sought to outlive their peers through accomplishment. All were brought low with finality; the works of their hands undone in the cessation of a heartbeat.
Picture, however, a king not subject to this mandate. Eternal, possessing of all true power. This king was present when the stars were commanded to burst forth from the void, he witnessed the oceans roar forth from the deep places. Lightning adorned his throne and creatures innumerable and indescribable existed simply to continually utter reverence and praise to his name. Immortal, death could not touch this king, could not approach his presence. This king truly need yield to no one for there was none more powerful, more deserving of absolute reverence and awe than he in all of the most divine or the most abominable planes in existence.
This king, though, did something unthinkable and uncharacteristic of one imbued of royalty...he knelt. He knelt in the filthy soil of a spoiled creation. He knelt in the squalor those who rejected him. With compassion, this king knelt and touched a blind man. He reached for a cripple. This king knelt and grasped a woman caught in adultery. He embraced an embezzling tax cheat and clasped a leper. This king cradled a dead girl and endured the scorn of mockers as he named her "sleeping".
There were those who faintly grasped with whom they walked while this king tread our plane. Their tainted knowledge led them to believe this king would rise up in might, overthrow usurping armies and establish an immediate eternal power. They were perplexed when this king stripped himself near naked and proceeded to perform the lowliest of duties - the washing of their dusty, road-weary feet.
For this was the model of greatness in this king's eyes - the true wisdom of power that the mighty and powerful of this sphere have squandered centuries railing against in futility. This king's kingdom is not built with the mighty, but with the broken. It is not built by the powerful, but with the vulnerable. This king's kingdom is not built by the wise of the earth, but by the helpless.
We would argue these truths as ineffective and foolish for what progress can ever be made in any undertaking with such deficiencies. Our misunderstanding stems from our own misguided understanding of our own importance in the tapestry of God's unfolding history where each of us is but a small thread. The phrase "God plus me = everything" is true just as the phrase "infinity + zero= infinity" where we realize we are the sum zero in this equation and only through the grace of a loving and all powerful father have we been invited to participate in the most grand of redemptive stories in existence.
But this was only possible as the king who knelt in our soil, walked in our flesh, and touched our diseases ultimately yielded himself, of his own accord, to bow low under the crushing weight of wooden beams; to be nailed to those same beams and to be elevated on a cross as a substitution for my filth and wrong doing so that I could approach a pure and holy God without blemish once and for all time. He did this for me as he did this for all. This is the king who bowed low and his call is for us to follow his example.