Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Foot Washer

It would, of course, be a great mistake to think of Jesus as primarily a foot washer. Of course he did, at least on one occasion, wash feet (John 13:1-17)… but we don’t label him by this humble act of service.

I wonder if it would also be a great mistake to assume that Jesus only washed feet that one time to make a point. If one were to ask Bible scholars “how many times did Jesus wash feet?” I would imagine that most would simply answer “once.” But I wonder… is that really the Spirit of Jesus? Just washing feet once to make a point?

When I think of Christians, especially those who I understand to be Christian leaders, in regard to this quality of humble service, there are a couple of categories.
  1. Those who occasionally perform acts of humility for effect, and
  2. Those who consistently perform acts of service out of their humble nature.

I’ve always seen more Christlikeness from those in camp #2.

There are those who give lip service to their willingness to help with simple things. These are the types who say “oh, you’re finished? I was intending to help.” Or “I’d try to help but I’m afraid that I’d get in the way.” You know these types… the ones who arrive late, linger at the refreshment table, and leave early.

Then there are those that fly under the radar and just get the work done. No fanfare. Little recognition.

I think I am most impressed when the humble service requires great skill. My pal Merlin is a great example. He serves as one of the VPs at the University with me. As an example, while the rest of us VPs were participating in the pomp and pageantry of commencement just a few days ago (see http://www.northwestu.edu/media/photos/galleries/index.php?id=123) Merlin ran around with cameras in hand. He is an excellent photographer and his work with a camera is famous in some circles… but he is so much more than merely a photographer. Other VPs of Marketing eschew seemingly menial tasks like photography, especially when there are more dignified things to do (like wear a girly robe and funny hat)… but not Merlin. For him, photography is a bit of foot washing. Highly skilled foot washing.

Here’s the dilemma that I’ve pondered on and off for years… do these acts of foot washing discredit our roles? In Merlin’s case I watch it happen over and over again; even though his business card says Vice President, he is often referred to (and even worse treated as) the photographer. I’ve experienced it too… since I’m willing to do various technical or mechanical things (Web pages, PowerPoint, ghost writing, etc.) I’ve sometimes been labeled as more of a manager or technician than a leader.

So… back to Jesus. I don’t think He was a foot washer merely for effect. I tend to think that Jesus served the best He could on a moment by moment, situation by situation basis. So if that meant that feet needed washing, He washed feet… or healed blind eyes… or fed hungry mouths… or hungry souls for that matter.

If that is the case, then our responses ought to include:

  1. When serving, serve not merely for effect, but really serve, even if it requires finely honed skill, and
  2. When we observing someone serving, let’s resist the ease of stereotyping the one serving. Let’s appreciate the humble act of service without mindlessly sticking someone into a menial category.

Just because Jesus washed feet (I’m guessing on several occasions) doesn’t make him a foot washer.

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