Billionaires playing rich men’s games. Who can build the biggest space rocket? Who will be propelled into space (or at least the edge) first? Who can exploit space for money? Because there is not enough ‘space’ on earth for our type of greed. Politicians fleecing the system for personal gain. South Africa is broken because of corruption. America is struggling internally with leadership, truth, and integrity. South America isn’t far behind. Joined by China, Russia, and probably every other country in the world. Should we include Canada and the United Kingdom? Depends who we talk to.
There’s massive disillusionment with systems of government and the trustworthiness of those in public office. A friend said to me yesterday that he was tired of the ongoing failure of leadership. “I’ve stopped looking at the news, our generation obviously failed, I guess it’s up to the next generation. But I’m jaded and worn out.”
Truth be told the human predicament has always been ‘disappointing’ when it comes to the ability to govern ourselves well. Yes, there are many individuals who have been lights of hope and beacons of inspiration in a wide variety of fields. They have contributed to the world and made sacrifices and discoveries that have left the earth they found a better place. But politically, and dare I say spiritually, leadership has been a disaster. Personal gain, moral failure, opportunism, and blatant incompetence are some of the hallmarks. How about gender inequality, race, friends helping friends, and liaisons feathering nests from the public purse?
I don’t think it’s a cynical picture. In fact I wish it were. And it was certainly similar in the time of Jesus, when the Romans and the religious leaders conjured all manner of trysts to maintain power and control. Which makes the actions of Jesus quite unique and remarkable when we read John’s account of the Last Supper (Chapter 13). This was the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before he was captured, flogged, mocked, and crucified. Betrayed by a friend, he never raised a finger to protest or to save himself. Remarkable! He could have, quite easily. But then he would have chosen the way of most leaders. The easier path, the road most travelled, the door of least resistance, the politically astute and correct move, the ‘God doesn’t want me to suffer’ alternative to sacrifice, and sidestepping truthfulness in hard places.
The account in John focusses on Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Primarily because there were no slaves present to get their hands dirty. No-one among them had volunteered to provide what was in their culture, a common courtesy. Jesus took off his outer clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist, and filled the void. Everyone in the room was mortified, blushing, protesting, and squirming their toes. Jesus knelt before them, smiled, held their feet in his hands and washed the dust from between their toes. No symbolic foot-washing like we do in some churches today. Give everyone a heads up so they make sure to have a pedicure before the ceremony. This was real dirt from the road being washed off ugly feet by the hands of a servant king.
The most amazing statement is found before Jesus rises to his feet and then sinks on his knees at the feet of others. In John chapter 13 we are told: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God….
Imagine that! The Father (God) has placed everything under your power! What would you do? How would you handle such a situation? Take revenge on all who have wronged you? Make sure your family and friends are all taken care of financially and materially? Go on a legislation spree to make sure that people will do as they are told, and include a ton of stuff about God and Christian values? I mean, this is a God-given opportunity. We know how he works and what he wants. Thank you God for blessing me! Like Saul, we have misread the Scriptures since we were weened from our mother’s milk, it’s obvious isn’t it?!
Jesus took off his outer garments and washed feet. What an anticlimax. But then, we do recall that when he was tempted by satan in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry he was offered power, influence, and prestige? If he would only do what we would do given half the chance. Jesus refused the glitter and seduction then, and he refused three years later on the night of his betrayal. That is servant leadership. No symbolic act. Filling a genuine need even when no one else will lift a dusty foot and step forward themselves. Even when there is no benefit, no publicity, no agenda. Church and state could take note and learn.
Why do I follow Jesus? There’s no-one else who comes close. I certainly don’t. I fuss about the color of the towel and there’s quite a lineup of people whose feet I have no desire to wash, if I’m honest. I make excuses, procrastinate, or change the subject. The most embarrassing thing is that when I talk to Jesus about this he gets me to put my feet up. And as he washes the grunge from my curling toes he smiles up at me and ever so diplomatically explains why this moment is not the greatest thrill for him either. I hate it when he does that. Anoints me with grace and invites me to ‘go and do likewise’.
Jesus refused the good stuff and the perks for himself when entrusted with all the Father’s power. God help us if he had. That’s why I follow Jesus, even though I’m too often defeated by da-feet of others. He knows, he never condemns, he leads the way; one foot at a time. When I grow up I want to be a leader like him. We may well be ‘dust to dust, but it’s the life lived in-between the toes of time that counts.
Gathering too much dust? Listen to this song and allow Jesus to wash it away…..