Jesus now explains the reason for the foot washing. At the root of it is the importance of them correcting their misunderstanding about his Lordship, his rule, and the nature of the authority that he wields. He is the Lord, and yet his Lordship is not in diametric opposition to his ministry of serving. He is the teacher, and yet his majestic doctrine and powerful proclamation do not exclude him from the role of a servant. We tend to think that if someone is a king, a boss, a president, then he cannot also be a servant, much less a menial one. But that is the wrong way of thinking about Jesus. Jesus is another kind of Lord, one that functions not the way that we think authority functions. Ever since the fall of man, we have associated authority with domination and manipulation. The original lie in the Garden of Eden was that God’s rule was bad for us, set up to ruin us and hurt us. But Jesus here in this moment of foot washing exemplifies that the reverse is true: God’s rule is an upside down org chart. Yes, he is in charge; but no, he is not dominating. He is serving. How encouraging is this! We can accept Christ’s rule over every part of our lives without fear that that rule will be anything other than for our best!
But then there is a further lesson that we are to learn from this example of foot washing. If that is how the Master acted, then we, his servants, are to act similarly. Christian leadership, then, fundamentally takes its model from the towel and basin, not from clenched fist. Christians do have authority, but that authority is modeled after Christ’s serving authority, not after the world’s naked thirst for power at other’s expense. A Christian leader is not to be never seen doing something menial. It is important that Christian leaders take their turn at the dishes, take their moment at the laundry, take the opportunity to sweep and clean. But more than this, Christian leaders in the way they lead are to lead as servants, not merely as rulers. The rule of a Christian leader, then, is for the good of the people he or she leads. The Christian leader does not rule for his or her own benefit, but for the good of those that he or she serves. The weight, then, of Christian leadership is intense: for he lays down his life for those that follow him. If we are in Christian leadership, let us take for our symbol the towel!
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