Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Servant Leader"?

I love the writing of the Apostle John. His gospel, his letters, even his vision on the Isle of Patmos (though admittedly not nearly as straight-forward practical as his other works) all speak to my heart so profoundly.

This week I am reading again in the gospel of John, the Passover discourse with the disciples that begins in chapter thirteen and concludes at the beginning of chapter eighteen. The first verse of the discourse:

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love (John 13:1, Thompson Chain Reference Bible, New International Version, 1983).

Wow, get ready for what happens next. Jesus is about to show the full extent of His love! This is the big reveal. The next thing Jesus does will be all about love, His love for us. This is so important because He will soon command his disciples to do the same for each other.

If you are a Christian, you know the scenario about to unfold. Jesus, the guest of honor, is about to take off his "outer garment" (take off his jacket, roll up his sleeves, so to speak), wrap a towel around his waster and start doing the house slave's job. He is going to wash everyone's feet.

Now before I go further, I must admit that I haven't studied ancient Roman household codes, so when I say that washing feet was the house slave's job, I am repeating what I have heard from the pulpit many times. I am assuming that is true, as I have heard it repeatedly. That is not always a wise practice ( 0.0 ) but I think no harm is done here. In the passage, the disciple Peter acts truly shocked that Jesus would do such a thing, and resists letting Jesus debase himself to touch Peter's filthy funky feet.

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:15-17).

Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, has just shown in living color than no job is beneath Him. He is willing to serve in any way that is needful to the ones He loves. He conveys to his disciples that now there is no task too humble for them, because they can't possibly believe that they are above Jesus. The messenger cannot honestly consider himself of higher status than the Master who sent him out. That would be inconceivable.

I remember being fascinated as a little girl with the state of my sandal clad feet at the end of a summer day. It was amazing how white was the skin covered by leather straps in comparison to the filthy darkness of the exposed parts of my feet. The crevices and wrinkles would be near black, the rest the color of coffee stains. I also remember being amazed at the amount of dirt left in the bottom of the tub after washing my feet. Oklahoma is a dirty state, and didn't even miss the half cup or so of dirt that clung to my little girl feet on any given summer day.

Our feet these days are safely encased in socks and shoes, so while they may be a bit smelly come evening they are not filthy. They are well protected from the elements by our clothing. Our pathways are no longer dirt. If we are walking outside at all, it will be on concrete sidewalks and paved parking lots. That is the farthest many of us walk outside most days, from the building to the car or vice versa.

I am not sure of any job in our household that would be the equivalent to foot washing in an arid climate before modern transportation. In that culture, one would have walked all day on dusty roads, stepping around (hopefully) any animal droppings lying around, while wearing sandals. A country child's feet may still get that dirty, but it is the exception not the rule.

There are no slaves anymore. If we accept that the most distasteful tasks are the ones we hire out when we can afford it, then housecleaning and the care of young children are at the top of the list. I think it no coincidence that in patriarchal families that is considered woman's work. Notice I do not write "in Christian families" because patriarchal homes are hardly Christian. Patriarchy is a world-wide phenomenon and has been around since the fall of man, long before Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist that fateful evening.

What would be the social equivalent of a slave's task these days? Coming over as a guest, grabbing a pair of gloves, paper towels, toilet brush and cleanser and cleaning the bathrooms? Taking out the garbage? Changing a baby's diaper? Rinsing the soiled diapers well before placing them in the washing machine and renewing the bleach water in the diaper pail?

Whatever task you choose, it would have to be one in which the host would be tempted to jump up and say, "No! Never!" in shock, like Simon Peter said to Jesus (v. 8). We can't get what Jesus was really telling us if we don't relate to Simon Peter. There is a reason his response is highlighted in scripture. It relates to all of us.

There you have my musings from my time in the Word this morning. Whether anyone reading here gets anything from it, it is speaking volumes to me. The picture of true humility is being a servant to all. And not a servant-leader either, but a true servant. Jesus didn't serve by calling the slave to come in and wash the disciples' feet. He made sure it got done by doing it Himself. There was no display of any kind of authority or taking charge of things. He did what needed to be done.

And then he specifically commanded us, don't think you are above me. Do as I have done. No excuses (vs. 12-17). No job is beneath you. You are not in charge of anything but your own choices. Jesus is the Teacher and the Lord (vs. 13) and he is the One giving commands here and His command is humble yourself and serve.

Go and do likewise. Indeed. I think I better get busy.


  1. Thank you, Shadowspring. I have been that servant. At the same time, I have been that domineering master. I am exhausted from serving, but I think that is because I had the wrong motivation. I want to learn to serve out of love, rather than obligation.

  2. May the Lord reward you, dear one, for the service you have offered in His name.

    May you find an easy yoke and a light burden awaiting you each morning for the rest of your days. You may be exhausted by doing more than is required of you, too. May the Lord give you wisdom in all things.