Yesterday I talked about a group of people Jesus identified as “the least of these.” I was groping (and still am) for a better understanding of who “these” persons are. If you read Matthew 25:31-46, you will discover the stakes are high in getting this one right. Scripture is the best commentary on scripture, and I believe today’s passage may shed useful light on who these folks are.
The setting is the upper room, an intimate private gathering where Jesus is sharing and demonstrating something that will be integral to everything His followers do until He returns: “serving.”
To demonstrate how this will look for His followers, He strips off His garment, picks up a basin of water, and proceeds to wash the feet of everyone one in the room, including a traitor. Jesus is acting like a slave, who has been assigned the lowliest of tasks: to wash the dirtiest part of the body—the feet. In an era of sandals, it was the feet, in constant communication with the ground, that trudged through the weeds and the dust and the muck. This demonstration took them by surprise. Their spokesman Peter was shocked and said, “Lord there is just no way I am going to let You carry out a lowly slave’s job for me. You are my master not my slave.” Jesus responded:
Do you know what I have just done? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. (John 13:12-16)
The sentence that leaps out at me this morning though is this:
Jesus, knowing His hour had come, that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
I have often said and heard others say, that at the completion of their race, they aspire to cross the finish line in full stride, having left nothing on the course. I think “having loved our own who were in the world,” right up until the end, is what “full stride” will look like. Just as God provided Jesus with a network of intimates, He has done the same with us. Each of us are uniquely connected to the world around us through very specific networks of people. God is calling us to recognize that we are stakeholders in their destinies. God is asking us to take ownership of the spiritual and material needs around us. The light of the world was never intended to just shine out of a stained glass window. It was intended to be visible, practical and accessible to our neighbors.
Just as the Master showed Himself willing to bow low and deliberately touch and be touched by the filthiest things on earth, He has called us to do the same. Many of the ways we assemble as Christians and relate to each other currently in the Body of Christ enable us to conceal the soiled and broken places in our lives. It is really easy to hide our bitterness, loneliness, fear, lust, ambition, and for that matter, any thing we want to hide, for a few hours within organized programs and rituals each week. However, if you do this enough times in a row, it can become a rigid, sanctified (yet lifeless) tradition and sadly, the norm. This is an old wineskin.
Regardless of our place in society, we have been placed uniquely into the Body of Christ. No two people are connected to the world in the same way. The sets of relationships we have are given to us by God to take ownership of. Only we, with our unique package of giftings and location can fulfill our particular kingdom mission: to love the people in these networks, who are in the world, right up until the end.
I picture a day when the children of God are liberated into their freedom, when we will discover who we really and fully are “in Christ.” Our deep rest and security in Him will allow us to cease with all pretenses and reveal who we really are (even the junk) to each other. We will not be afraid of the filth that is revealed in others and ourselves. We will act on the example and command of Jesus to associate with the defiled and putrid things around us. I believe that in essence we are washing each other’s feet when we gather transparently allowing the blood of His Son and His Word to wash over us.
In the Upper Room, Jesus created a safe space for His network of intimate friends. I think we, too, have the mandate and ability to create safe relational space for those around us through our willingness to truly listen and become involved with the hard messed up stuff in each other’s lives. If we will position ourselves to serve and defer to one another, we will one day find that, by way of our serving, we have become connected to each other with strands of love so strong that they cannot be torn apart. I could envision the Body of Christ, with all it’s newly discovered connections, as a great kingdom-sized net that God can sweep through the earth, producing a catch that will require help just to drag it to the shore.
This passage contributes to my understanding of who are “the least of these.” I believe we are already in close proximity to “them.” By all means, let’s do missions in other cultures, but let’s not fail to see that our neighbors—and we ourselves—qualify as “the least of these.” We must look and listen for the more subtle evidences of spiritual poverty: those identifying marks of loneliness, physical, and spiritual abuse, hunger, and fear, etc. Right now, right where we are, we can take ownership and begin to serve the least of these by creating new kingdom spaces where they feel safe. We must risk our lives outside our little “c” church in order to be the big “C” Church.
Father, help us to discover and create the new wine skins that are strong enough to contain the fullness of Your Spirit, flexible enough to allow for transparency and for the authentic give and take of interpersonal relationships. Help us to become, in ourselves, “safe spaces” for those around us. Help us to identify the ones You have given us and teach us how to wash their feet. And, as with Jesus, our example, let not one of them whom You have given us perish. Amen.
As the Lord has called out to many of us in our old wineskin thinking and structures, He has begun to lead us out into new and totally unfamiliar territory. While it is exciting, it can also be intimidating. I have included a portion of the lyrics to “White Owl” by Josh Garrels. Its message has been a super encouragement to me. A cool animated version can be watched at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMaXzRZw3Ok
When the night comes,
and you don’t know which way to go
through the shadowlands,
and forgotten paths,
you will find a road.
Like an owl you must fly
by moonlight with an open eye,
and use your instinct as a guide,
to navigate the ways that lay before you.
You were born to
take the greatest flight.