Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Throw in the Towel

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many."
(Mark 10:25)

“History does not record the dialogue,” writes Medefind, “but it isn’t hard to guess. Jesus’ disciples were bickering, again, jousting with words over which of them had made the biggest strides, merited the most respect, deserved the right to lead. The voices fired back and forth, hushed but tense.” I love how Medefind sets up the narrative of this text. He continues,

“You think you’re better than the rest of us? Peter and I were the first to join him…”

“If there are any top lieutenants around here, it’s John and me …”

“It isn’t that I’m better, just …”

“First to join doesn’t count for much. What a guy gave up to be here carries a lot more weight …”

“I left behind one of the most lucrative enterprises in Jerusalem …”

The twelve disciples had been together for three straight years, almost every waking hour spend side-by-side. Understandably, they had their squabbles from time to time. But this was inexcusable. Tonight was the Passover celebration, a time for celebration and hallowed remembrance. And now, just as the evening was getting started, an argument erupts over rank and relative importance.

“So now you’re looking down at fishermen? Didn’t you hear what Jesus said to me the other day about …”

The voices trailed off as the men noticed Jesus’ eyes upon them. Silence filled the room, and twelve sets of eyes turned toward their sandals.

Jesus smiled sadly. The lesson had been delivered many times already. Repeatedly, he had instructed his disciples to abandon self-promotion and prideful ambition. He would exhort them one last time: “This is how people out there approach success,” he reminded. “For them, it’s all about position, status, power and titles. That’s not how it’s supposed to be with you. Success is in the opposite direction – serving, waiting tables, meeting each others’ needs.”

As always, Jesus desired to make his words more concrete. He removed his robe and laid it nearby. There was one job that even most house servants considered themselves above – washing the dust and grime from the sandal-clad feet of travelers. The task was reserved for the last-placed servant, the lowest on the totem pole. Wrapping a towel around his waist the way a common slave would do, he took a basin from the sink in the corner. Then, directing his students to sit, Jesus knelt and began scrubbing dirt from their feet.

When he had finished, Jesus rose. As he often did, the teacher led with a question: Do you understand what I have done for you?” He paused, letting them ponder for a moment. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for this is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

He finished with a simple conclusion: If you pursue this sort of serving, you’ll know true blessing. [i]

Imagine yourself as one of the disciples in the Upper Room with Jesus on that Passover occasion. Understanding the role of a servant in that culture, what must it have been like when Jesus got up from the table and began washing their feet?

Imagine yourself pulling into your place of employment. It’s a brittle cold and windy winter day. There’s a heavy and constant snow fall. As you pull into the parking lot, you are met by your employer. They motion for you to pull up to the front door. They then ask you to get out, make your way inside for a fresh cup of hot chocolate. They in return, hop in your car and park it for you. At the end of the day, as you make your way to the exit, you find your car parked right outside, all de-iced, warmed up and ready to go. Your boss shakes your hand, gives you a gift certificate to Pappa Vino’s and says, “have a great night out with your spouse.” Why? No necessary reason, no flattery, they simply wanted to serve you. How would you feel?

As incomprehensible as the above scenario may be, it is pale in comparison to the actions of Jesus in the Upper Room.

Reflect on the following thoughts from Richard Foster,

“As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service…Whenever there is trouble over who is the greatest there is trouble over who is the least. That is the crux of the matter for us, isn’t it? Most of us know we will never be the greatest; just don’t let us be the least.”[ii]
(Richard Foster)

No one is useless in this world that
lightens the burden of it for any one else.”

[i] Ibid., Medefind & Lokkesmoe, The Revolutionary Communicator, 137-138.
[ii]Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), 110.

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