Are we sure we are ok with a king who washes feet?

As Americans, we are drawn to winners. We want to be associated with the winning team (hello 2000s Patriots fans and 1990s Cowboys fans). We want to attend prestigious universities and work for successful companies. We support the political candidate who will do whatever it takes to win. We are drawn to churches with influential, charismatic pastors and sprawling campuses. Being associated with powerful institutions and people makes us look important.

But to follow Jesus is to abandon this obsession with status. To be associated with Jesus, in fact, means being OK with lowering our status and even sharing in his humiliation.

In Jesus’ day, to become a disciple (a better word might be apprentice) of a rabbi, you were attaching your reputation to his reputation. If the rabbi was respected and celebrated, your status was elevated when you became his disciple.

But what happens when your rabbi humiliates himself?

This is what is happening when Jesus gets up from the meal with his 12 disciples and takes up the tools of the trade of a servant, wrapping a towel around his waist and filling a basin (John 13). And their rabbi begins doing one of the most humiliating tasks possible in the ancient world.

Washing. Feet. The work of a slave, not a rabbi. And certainly not the job of the messiah.

When the disciples witnessed their rabbi washing feet, their thoughts were likely not: Look at Jesus. What a humble leader. He is our teacher but he still serves us. That’s so great.

More likely, they were considering what their rabbi’s humiliating act does to their own status and reputation. Do we really want to be associated with a rabbi who washes feet?

For Peter, the answer is no.

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Author Skye Jethani suggests that Peter initially refused to have Jesus wash his feet not out of concern for Jesus’ reputation, but his own.  Peter knew that if Jesus brought shame upon himself, it would lower his own status.

“At that moment Jesus wasn’t just humiliating himself, he was humiliating Peter,” Jethani writes in his book What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church?. “He was deconstructing Peter’s pride, destroying his honor, and exposing Peter’s unholy ambition.”

Yikes. As Americans, we are all Peter. We want to be associated with winners.

Jesus, don’t humiliate yourself like that. We can help you with your image.

But when we create a $1 billion advertising campaign for Jesus, are we protecting his image or our own? As the ad suggests, He gets us. But do we get Him?

In what ways in our lives are we creating our own marketing campaign for Jesus? In what ways do we present a Jesus that makes us look good?

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. (John 13:3-4)

Jesus was secure in his identity as Son of God. He had His Father’s approval. He didn’t need any additional approval or applause from people. So he was free to serve radically, even if it  cost him worldly status and credibility.

Central to the call of Jesus is finding our identity in God and resisting the idols of status, influence and worldly power.

Here is a question that is especially convicting for pastors, like me: How important to me is my own image? And in what ways am I using Jesus to enhance that image or to climb the social ladder?

As a follower of Jesus, you are set free from the need to climb the social ladder. If King Jesus washes feet, it has burned down the entire ladder anyway. "Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master," the foot-washing Jesus told us.

In Christ, you have been set free to love, serve, repent, forgive, weep and dance without any fear of what others may think.

This Maundy Thursday, let’s meditate on the way Jesus serves and loves, even if it is costly to his reputation and our own. And ask ourselves: Are we OK associating ourselves with a King who washes feet?

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