One might describe much of the political ferment in our country and the world as an expression of the desire not to get “stepped on.” Whether it is poor whites enraged over declining wages and employment opportunities or people of color voicing fury about centuries of oppression, many people are struggling not to be held down and dominated by others. In other countries people fight and struggle to be free of tyrannical leaders and rulers. No one likes being stepped on.
So we might want to pause and reflect on an image used in our sermon text for Ascension Sunday, Ephesians 1:15-23. Overall the text celebrates the fact that Jesus risen from the dead is currently seated at God’s right hand, ruling over the universe. It’s the ongoing result of the act of Jesus ascending in the Gospel reading, Luke 24:50-53 and in Acts 1:1-11. Then in verse 22 Paul chooses an image for Jesus’ rule which sounds exactly like the kind of oppression people today which to escape. “And he has put all things under his (Jesus’) feet…”
I was surprised to find none of the commentaries on Ephesian bothering to unpack or give some background to that expression about everything under Jesus’ feet. It clearly seems to be based in ancient expressions of rule and victory, kings triumphing over enemies in battle, as in Joshua 10:24 when Joshua calls the victorious commanders of Israel to put their feet on the necks of enemy kings they had defeated.
On one hand, I believe, that image of Jesus stepping on all other “rule and authority and power and dominion” (verse 21) is reassuring to us when we are fearful of oppression and defeat by forces much greater than ourselves. Whether it’s terrorism or our own government that feels threatening, we have the promise and hope of Jesus’ victory over every evil power. That’s some great comfort in troubled times, especially for those who are being dominated by forces beyond their control.
On the other hand, however, it’s worth considering that the image place our own selves beneath Jesus’ feet. Jesus is on top of it all, including us, hence verses 22 and 23 going on to develop another image, not of Jesus as stomping feet, but of Jesus as head over His body, which is the church.
That picture of ourselves beneath the feet of Jesus may have its own comfort. Luke’s image of Mary of Bethany sitting at Jesus’ feet to hear His teaching (Luke 10:39) was taken up and appreciated in the old hymn, “Sitting at the Feet of Jesus.” And many pet owners might appreciate how comfortable and secure their animal companions seem to feel at or even under their masters’ feet.
So that image of the all the powers of the universe subject to Jesus and stepped on by His feet should not tempt us toward any vainglory of our own, imagining that, at least at present, we can share in that domination of such powers. Instead, we may abide in peace at the thought that Jesus rules over every authority, including our own, but as loving Head of it all, “for the church,” as verse 22 says.