“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. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus answered, ‘A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s 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.’
---- John 13:1-16
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can...” ----John Wesley
The summer following my graduation from seminary with my Master of Divinity (M. Div.) degree was over 20 years ago, but I remember it vividly as if it were last year. I had worked year round for three years to amass the 96 semester hours necessary for the degree, and I had struggled through classes in Greek, Hebrew, Old and New Testament Archeology, Hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible), Homiletics (public preaching), Evangelism, Theology, Old and New Testament Survey, Christian Education, Christian Missions and Church Growth, and the list just goes on and on. Maneuvering among the personality quirks of the various professors and memorizing endless lists of noun declensions, verb parsing, and outlines of other information, I came by the grace of God to graduation. And --- graduating cum laude to boot! I achieved one other goal as well --- I had been accepted in the Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program for the next Fall. Yep, I was very, very proud of myself, and I was on top of the world!
BUT --- with graduation came the end of my G.I. Bill financial assistance, at least for the summer. The tiny rural church where I served as Pastor did not pay me very much, so my wife and I could not live and pay our bills on that income and her small one, too. So, that summer I worked at two additional jobs, one of which was on the maintenance crew at the seminary. My particular assignment mostly consisted of cleaning the men’s and women’s restrooms around the school. Yep, this superbly qualified, immensely self-satisfied, academically adept recent graduate spent most of his time scrubbing the toilets and urinals used by everyone else! To say the least, I was not happy.
You see, during my last couple of semesters in school, I saw this financial crisis coming, so I had tried to get my name and credentials in the hands of a number of churches in the area who were looking for a Pastor. After all, I reasoned, I had served faithfully this little country church for a couple of years and had given them my best. Didn’t it make sense that now armed with my M.Div. degree and my increased skills that I should move on to a new --- read “bigger and better” --- place of service? Well, the silence from the churches was deafening and I was disheartened. To make matters MUCH worse, one of my fellow students I had come to dislike intensely announced that he had been called to a fairly large church with all kinds of benefits and a significantly greater salary than most of us had. I just couldn’t believe it --- this guy who never had an original thought in his life, who never studied very hard and didn’t care about his grades, who maintained the most supercilious manner, who was never serious about his scholarship and work --- THIS GUY was called to a bigger and better church and I was left high and dry! I was angry at the situation I was in and angry at God for allowing things to develop like this.
You see, what had happened to me was what happens to so many of us in the Church --- we forget what we’re here to be and what we’re here to do. Instead of maintaining a ministry as a servant, I was on my way to becoming a religious functionary with a career! By focusing on my own immediate situation and losing sight of WHY I was in seminary in the first place, I was becoming just another bright young executive hoping to rise in the employment system within which I worked. The Church was becoming to me a vast connected system in which I could rise and achieve significance, instead of being God’s vineyard of covenant people among whom He placed me to serve. Words like “success” or “significance” or “achievement” were being measured by the size of my congregation, the money I persuaded them to give, the denominational offices I held, and the acquaintances and friendships I fostered with others like me. I was well on my way to forgetting that these words more properly denote one’s faithfulness to God’s calling, the ministry to His covenant people, and faithfully preaching and teaching His holy Word.
During this Holy Week, I trust the passage above will invade our thoughts as never before. Yes, we MUST focus on Christ’s Sacramental Supper on Maundy Thursday, and the atoning death of Christ for our sins on Good Friday. BUT --- these MUST be held in perspective by Jesus’ humble act of washing the feet of His disciples. Surely by now you know that this was the dirty act that was done by the most humble and lowliest of slaves and servants in households at the time. Surely you know, too, that by washing the dirty, pungent feet of others --- feet that bore the dust and grime of the common highways and byways --- the one washing others’ feet became ritually unclean himself. It was NOT something good Romans and circumspect Jews did themselves for their guests! And that’s what makes this simple act such a remarkable lesson and example for us!
With very little time remaining for Him on this earth, our Lord Jesus by word and deed showed the essential attitude foundational to every relationship between covenant brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as the true nature of Christian ministry in His Church --- servanthood. We don’t have careers in the Church --- we have God’s calling! The greatest in the Church is the servant, and every covenant child of God is a servant! Service is our greatest achievement. Join me in praying that God will Sovereignly grant a revival of true servanthood among us as we proceed in thought and worship to this coming Sunday morning when we repeat with all the saints of all the ages the words of praise and triumph, “He is not here; He is risen!” May all of us aspire to hear “Well done!” because we’ve been “good and faithful servants.”