“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 1:14
We find it again as John mixes narrative and image in his account of the Upper Room.
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world, and to 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.” 13:1-5
Was it John mixing image and narrative, or was Jesus acting out a parable of his own ministry?
Jesus is close to his death, as we are reminded by the Passover reference and the reference to Judas’ impending betrayal. Having loved these disciples, he now was to demonstrate to them his love.
Was foot washing the full extent of his love? I think it was a sign. Jesus left his exalted position as teacher to wash their feet, just as the Eternal Son of God had left eternity. Jesus took off and laid aside his outer garment, just as Jesus had not grasped onto his equality with God. He put on the garment of a servant. The towel of the slave that washes feet is representative of Jesus servant-status. He was not born as a King of the earthly type to rule by force. He was born as a Servant. He then went from disciple to disciple washing their feet. Their feet were soiled from their walking on this earth. Jesus washed away the soil and dried their feet with his own garment. Just as he would about 24 hours later have washed their sins by his blood, and taken their sin onto himself.
Should we have ritual foot washing in church as some say? Is it another sacrament or ordinance?
It is a model of ministry.
For our sixth word for pastors is found after Jesus resumed his position of authority. That resumption was also a sign of his exaltation that followed his humiliation on the Cross. He took up his place of authority and spoke again to the disciples.
“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.” v. 14,15.
Models for ministry are big. I explained to another pastor that Bethany was called to be a city church reflecting in it’s fellowship over time the same variety of people as are in our community. His immediate reply was, “Do you have a model?”
In his way of thinking, it was a foolish thing to set out on a ministry that differed from the standard methods, unless we had a model of someone who had done it successfully.
The borough of Queens taught me at least one thing. The models that I could find in books of what other churches have done did not fit. The lesson has been reinforced by the experience in central Madison.
We have models for inner-city churches, but the neighbors are affluent here. We have models for social action churches, but this city already has three social service agencies for every one social problem. We have a few models for racially diverse churches, but I can’t find one that speaks of the interaction of Norwegian-American, Lao-American and Mexican-American cultures.
Queens and Madison have taught me of necessity the art of eclectic imitation. We borrow from a variety of sources because no one source ever has ever fit what we wanted to be.
There is a source of Models that is much more fitting. The Bible has models. The art form needed for scripture models is not eclectic selection. We are not free to pick and choose from scripture, for all of it is profitable that we might be fully trained. Instead, the art form is patient, prayerful reflection.
The lure of book store models is that it provides quick answers. We can avoid having to think deeply about the purpose of things. We can avoid having to think theologically as well if we just take the pattern of another ministry and put it over ours. Where our ministry does not fit the pattern, we take a pair of scissors and cut off the parts that stick out. The places where our ministries do not fill out the pattern are hidden from view and we don’t have to think about them.
So we borrow a model that Evangelizes on Sunday and builds by teaching on Thursday. So we cut away teaching on Sunday because it sticks out from the pattern. However, we neglect the teaching on Thursday and are left with neither what we were doing, not with what the model was doing, but a half measure.
The sixth word is this:
“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
There are several parts to this model.
Service. The descent from Lord to Slave as Jesus set out to wash their feet was a descent from authority to service. It was a descent from honor to almost indecent servitude. Peter was so offended by this descent that he almost refused to be part of it.
Whom do we serve?
The answer is found in the old Sunday School acronym JOY. “Serve Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last. Jesus, Others and Yourself — JOY.
Real Needs. We hear that we should serve felt needs. That is the motive for polling the audience. But Jesus did not poll the apostles about their need. He knew their need and how to serve it. When Peter objected, voicing as usual the unstated thoughts of the others, he showed that Jesus would never had come to this ministry by polling the disciples.
Sheep might desire to wander in new paths or walk on the mountain trails. But that is where sheep get into trouble. Their felt need is freedom, but their real need is guidance and protection.
The felt need of the disciples was to be attached to Jesus greatness. They debated about greatness from time to time. Their real need was to be served by Jesus humility.
The felt need of our sheep might be entertainment or feel-good words or the appearance of success. We know the real need. We have to speak from the authority of the Word without compromise and at the same time serve them gently.
Purification. The curious metaphor results from Peter’s objection. He did not want to have his feet washed. Jesus insisted that he have it done or Peter could not be part of him. Peter offered his head and hands as well. But Jesus said, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet..”
They had been bathed. By Faith in Jesus, we must conclude, they had been justified of their sin. The first need is to bring the soiled in body to the washing and regeneration of the Spirit through the Cross by Faith. There can be no ministry if the people have not come to Christ. The work of the Evangelist must precede the work of the Pastor.
They needed a foot wash. As they walked on dirt paths with sandaled feet, they collected dust and dirt. This is what Jesus washed off.
We are always needing to have the ministry of the word where the things we collect as we travel this world of sin can be removed from us. This is not the once for all time salvation event. It is the every day washing of confession and redirection.
This model of the Authoritative Servant is one all pastors can follow, in Queens or in Madison or wherever the Lord has placed us.