Dependent living is a tough concept to grasp, especially in a culture that prides itself on independence. Good grief, one of our country’s most celebrated holidays is July 4th, Independence Day. We literally have a day where we hoist our flags and set off our fireworks in honor of the day we, as a nation, gave dependence a permanent boot and decided we would be our own lords and masters. In America, independence isn’t just a virtue, it’s a way of life.
And those who choose to live dependently are thought to be lacking in character. Sometimes I think the “virtue” of independence is so ingrained in us, we think it a sin or a mark on someone’s character when they choose to live any other way.
So what does an independent, powerful, wealthy nation do with a Savior and King who came to be humble, weak, poor, and dependent?
We must take some time to sit by the manger and ponder the One within. Ponder the One who ruled the Universe with a scepter in His Hand and decided a better place to be was within the confines of a manger, a feeding trough for animals, with His primary caretaker a teenage girl from Nazareth who was poor, persecuted, and and a peasant.
When Jesus described Himself in Matthew 11:29, the only description we have from His own lips about His own character, He says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls” (emphasis mine).
The word there in the Greek for humble is taipenos and means “humble, lowly.” The Greek commentator Spiros Zodhiates says this about taipenos and its various forms in the New Testament: “[Taipenos] is the real estimate of ourselves. The sinner is taipenos when he recognizes the sinfulness which is his true condition; the unfallen creature, when merely recognizing that he is a creature; Jesus in His incarnate state, in recognizing His absolute dependence on the Father.”
The author of Hebrews tells us in chapter 2 that “it was fitting for [God], for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings….Therefore, [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:10, 17-18).
Jesus was perfected, or in other words, matured, through suffering, just as we are. It wasn’t that Jesus was imperfect; it was that He was untested. And just like you and me, He had to undergo suffering, hurt, unjust treatment, and pain, in order to be tested, tried, pressed on, pushed down, and, unlike the rest of us who falter and fail under pain and pressure, emerge from every test perfectly.
Why? Because He lived dependently. That is what the word taipenos tells us, and what Jesus tells us about Himself. I think a better translation of Matthew 11:29 reads, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and dependent in heart upon God.”
Every step Jesus took through life, He took dependently. Every test Jesus went through, He went through dependently. Every day He lived, He lived dependently on the Father. Jesus never celebrated an Independence Day. Every day was a Dependent Day for Him.
I can’t tell you how much I have pondered that simple fact over the course of this week. I can’t tell you the freedom that one thought has brought me. So much of my life I attempt to live independently, especially during the Christmas, holiday season. I feel like I have to muster up enough strength each and every day to get it all done on my own – perfectly, rightly, and completely. And every day never lives up to the expectations I have for myself. Something is left undone. Something goes amiss. I fail. My kids fail. My marriage fails. My family members fail.
But this week, in those failing moments, I have crept to the edge of the manger and looked down at the One inside who never lived an independent moment in His life. I have lingered long by this dependent Babe, knowing that He identifies fully with the feelings of my frailty, my imperfections, and my weakness. And He has tutored and taught me this week how, in my moments of weakness, I am to press in in dependence to the One in the manger.
That is all He asks us to do. He does not ask us to figure it out, or carry the burden of a 1000 things on our to-do lists, or be the perfect parents, spouses, family members, friends, or people. But He has asked us to live dependently. To acknowledge our aching need for a Savior who came and lived through every moment, every test, every day, dependently, and empathizes with us, showing us how to do so as well.
So today, don’t feel like you have to pull up your bootstraps and do the next five days, or five weeks, or five years perfectly. Crawl to the manger (maybe that’s all you have the energy to do), look long over the edge, and understand that all you have to do is live this moment, today, the next five days, the next five weeks, the next five years, dependently, leaning on Him, the weak baby in the straw, for all the comfort, hope, mercy, empathy, love and strength He gives.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Take a deep breath, and know that He came so that we might learn to live as people who are…dependent.