I wondered why would anyone open themselves to becoming vulnerable? And, how do we practice vulnerability? Why would we leave our ego, our pride, open to challenge and even rejection? Why would we reveal our weaknesses, our innocence to anyone for their advantage?
An important question in our commitment to follow Christ is: did Jesus practice vulnerability? I found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi a text that he did in the way only Jesus could have done.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:1-3
Regard Jesus’s self-emptying himself (kenosis): Jesus, truly God and truly human, in order to live as he did in his human nature, voluntarily humbled himself. He did not use his divine personhood as the Son to avoid experiencing the realities of human pain and death, of human weakness, human needs and human vulnerabilities.
I believe he tested his human vulnerability when he risked choosing among his friends and disciples humble fishermen, sinners, society’s castaways or when he boldly expressed new interpretations of the Torah and the prophets. I believe he tested his Sonship to the Father as he went about his God appointed ministry to proclaim God’s kingdom with power and authority.
Only in error do we attribute weakness here to Jesus. The paradox is that vulnerability requires strength of character, self-confidence and firm grounding. For Jesus, his strength was his Father’s love: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
I began to reflect on our own humanness in relation to vulnerability. I believe in our relationships with God, with creation, with all humanity, practicing vulnerability creates a sense of belonging essential to experience a real connection. To me this is contrary to acting as the proud loner, afraid to or unable to connect, to dismiss the value of others.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better then yourselves.”
We open ourselves to be vulnerable when we look for certainty, for social acceptance, being open to questions, exploring possibilities, acting with freedom and inhibition. Vulnerability is willing to risk showing deep emotions, to provide honest expressions without fear of ridicule. Being vulnerable allows us to build trust, to love with intimacy. Being vulnerable requires feeling safe when choosing companions and friends as a sign of honesty and emotional intelligence.
Being vulnerable fosters the ability to understand and manage our own emotions in positive ways, to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. Remember when James and John apart from the ten ask Jesus to grant them to sit on his right and his left in his glory. This immediately resulted in anger among the other ten disciples.
Jesus understood resentment and strife among his disciples was a danger to his and their ministry. Jesus’ answer to them was clear and unequivocal. I believe his answer is a lesson for us in humility and how to practice vulnerability. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10: 43-45
The liturgy for the ordination of a deacon includes a promise and a prayer that still calls me even now and, I believe calls all of us to practice vulnerability, and how to live in Christ; the promise: “look for Christ in all others, being ready to help and serve those in need.”; the prayer: “Oh Lord, make me/us modest and humble, strong and constant to observe the discipline of Christ that through me/us many may come to know you and love you.”
And the echo of his voice persists down through the ages and passes on to us: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,.”