1464) Washing Feet (b)

Christ Washing Peter’s Feet Ford Maddox Brown, English Painter  (1821-1893)

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            (…continued)  Yet Jesus, respected rabbi and master and Lord, grabbed a towel, got down on his knees, and washed the feet of his disciples– disciples who, on occasion, could get into big arguments about which one of them was the greatest, and who would get the best seats around the throne of Christ in heaven.  Jesus could see that they needed this lesson, and John wrote it all down so we could get the same lesson.

            The disciples needed this because even though they were just students and followers now, they would soon be the leaders.  In a few years, as the followers of Jesus grew by the thousands, these disciples would be looked up to by Christians all over the world as the ones who were actually with the Lord.  That would be enough to give anyone a big head, and Jesus did not need any proud and arrogant apostles going around acting like big shots.  He wanted servants who could love other people and treat them with respect.  So Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and then said to them: “I have set for you an example that you should do for others as I have done for you.  You are not greater than me, so if I can wash your feet and if I can serve you, you ought to be more than willing to be a servant to others, even the lowliest men and women.”

            Jesus set such an example of humble service not only there, but throughout his life.  Jesus did not start his ministry until he was thirty years old.  Before that, Jesus was a carpenter, in a small town, probably making tables and chairs and wooden implements to sell to the people of Nazareth.  He would have been doing this to support himself and his widowed mother.  A hundred years after Jesus lived, a third generation Christian leader, Justin Martyr, wrote that it was still common at that time to see farmers using plows made by the carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus spent most of his life engaged in manual labor. 

            This was not because he had to learn about the common life like the Prime Minister’s daughter in Thailand.  Unlike her, Jesus was born and raised in humble circumstances.  He knew all about common life.  But by spending most of his life at manual labor, Jesus was giving a lesson for everyone, everywhere, about the dignity of common labor.  It was what he himself did most of his life.

            And by washing his disciples’ feet on the night before his death, he was teaching the dignity and importance of every day acts of service to others—in even the most humble and humiliating settings.

            In John 13:17, the last verse of the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet, Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

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Mark 9:33b-35  —  (Jesus) asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

John 13:14-17  —  (Jesus said), “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.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Psalm 25:9  —  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

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KEEP ME HUMBLE  by Benjamin Anabaraonye 

Lord keep me humble
So I may not stumble
Into the folly of pride
May I in wisdom abide.

May I always remember
That all of my members
All I am and all I have
Are all what You gave.

Lord keep me humble
That I may not stumble
May I learn what I ought
As through Your Word I’m taught.

Keep me humble I pray
Each and every day
Blessed with the right attitudes
Through life’s vicissitudes.

Humbly dependent on You
With a heart sincere and true
Acknowledging Your gifts of grace
Giving back my worship and praise.

1463) Washing Feet (a)

 Thaksin Shinawatra Children

Thaksin Shinawatra and children

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           The Prime  Minister of Thailand several years ago was a man named Thaksin Shinawatra (1949-).  He was an important man in Southeast Asian politics, and is still an extremely wealthy businessman.  Shinawatra made many bad choices as a politician and was ousted in a military coup, but he had a good approach to parenting.  While he was Prime Minister, his seventeen year old daughter worked at a MacDonald’s restaurant in downtown Bangkok.  She would not have had to work there.  She would not have to ever work anywhere.  Her dad was a billionaire.  She didn’t need the money, and even if she did, her dad would certainly have had the connections to get her an easier, higher paying, more high class job.  But her dad wanted her to work at MacDonald’s for a low wage, with people of a far lower social standing.  He said:  “I want her to have that kind of experience and to know about life, because she is the youngest child and when she was born, her parents were already wealthy.”

            This girl may not have liked her father’s job selection for her, but any adult can see the wisdom in that father’s decision.  He was teaching his daughter many things.  He was teaching her the value of a dollar (or whatever they use for money in Thailand); he was teaching her the worth and dignity of all labor; and, by forcing her to work with people who she might think of as ‘beneath’ her, he was teaching her about the equality of all people.  She probably learned that people on both ends of the economic spectrum can be wise or foolish, mean or nice. And he was teaching her about the value of serving other people, even if it is just serving them a hamburger and fries.  That was a wise father and a fortunate daughter.

            Today is Maundy Thursday.  In the evening of that first Maundy Thursday, Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples.  It was at that meal that Jesus predicted Judas’s betrayal, Peter’s denial, and that all the disciples would desert him—predictions which all came true within just a few hours.  It was also at that meal that Jesus took some bread and wine from the table and began a ritual that his followers to continue to this day.

            There was one more important thing Jesus did that night.  He washed his disciple’s feet.  This part always takes some explaining.  Nowadays, people wear shoes when they go outside; and if your shoes are muddy, you take them off before you go trouncing around in someone else’s living room.  Many people like the shoes to go off at the door even if they aren’t full of mud. 

            But in Jesus’ day, people walked around barefoot, or at best, they wore sandals.  Most roads and paths were dirt, so by the end of the day everyone had dirty feet.  They couldn’t take their feet off, so someone had to wash them.  None of this had to be explained to John’s first readers, but needs and customs are different now. 

            These verses from John 13 tell us what Jesus did at the Last Supper about dirty feet:

            The evening meal was in progress, and 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, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  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.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

            There were unwritten rules about who washed whose feet.  Most of the time you just washed your own feet; but if you had a little money or status, you might get someone to wash them for you.  A parent might have a child do the foot washing, or a wealthy man might have a servant do that for him, or a teacher might have his students take turns washing his feet.  But you would not ever wash the feet of someone who was beneath you in status.  This was not a pleasant task, and no one would do it for another unless they had to or it was expected of them.  Yet, on the night before he was to die, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty God, who the next day was to die for the sins of all the world, washed his disciples’ feet.

            The disciple could hardly believe it.  Peter, at first was not going to even allow it.  In verse eight Peter said to Jesus, “No Lord, you shall never wash my feet.”  It was unthinkable.  But Jesus insisted and Peter finally obeyed and allowed it.

            This is far more remarkable than the Prime Minister’s daughter working at MacDonald’s.  This is even more incredible than if the Prime Minister himself would get a job at MacDonald’s.  Think of what it would be like in this country.  American ex-presidents have been known to get a quarter million dollars to make a single public appearance and give a 45 minute speech.  Do you think you will ever see any of them mopping the floor at MacDonald’s; or even driving their own car, or opening the door for someone else?  One day Winston Churchill’s servant forgot to put toothpaste on the great man’s toothbrush, and Prime Minister Churchill, who inspired a nation and helped lead the free world to victory in World War II, did not know what to do.  (continued…)

1342) Dignity and Humility (part two of two)

Image result for rich and poor images

Luke 1:52-53  —  “God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.”

     (…continued)  The last two meditations have been about the dignity of even the seemingly most insignificant people, and, the need for humility in even those who seem to be the greatest; and about how God brings down the high and mighty, but lifts up the lowly and despised.  When we look at that sort of thing in the Bible we need to ask ourselves where we fit in.  Who did you think about as you read the words above from Luke chapter one?  What does this Word from God have to say to you?  Are you the high and mighty and arrogant, needing to be brought down and humbled?  Or are you among the poor and downtrodden, in desperate need of comfort and dignity?  Were you thinking, “Yes, go get them, God; I’d like to see those big shots knocked off their high horse”?  Or, were you thinking, “Oh, oh!  I am riding pretty high now, so does that mean God is about to bring me down?”  Or, were you thinking, “Yes, Lord, I will wait for the time when you will lift me up from my lowly and despised place in life”?

          You can’t sort out people like you sort out potatoes, bad ones on one pile and good ones on the other.  People are more complex than potatoes, so we aren’t able to put all the high and mighty bad people on one pile, and all the lowly and despised good people on another pile.

          We must not simply look at the high and mighty people that we hear about on the news (especially the politicians we don’t like), and say those are the ones God is going to bring down, thinking none of this applies to us.  We must let this verse speak to each of us in both ways. 

          Certainly, in one sense, I and most of the people I know are ordinary, ‘little’ people.  I can’t think of any high and mighty big shots in my circle of friends and family.  And to us as common people, Luke 1:52 is a message of comfort and hope.  There is much in life we are powerless against—we lose loved ones, face unexpected health problems, and endure all kinds of heartaches and afflictions, much of which is out of our control.  The Bible tells us to hold on, God is on our side, there is a new day coming, and God will restore and lift up his people.  That’s good news. 

          But the verse also ought to make us shudder a bit, we who are the rich of the world.  To many people, we are the high and mighty, as even the poorest of us in America are among the wealthiest people that have ever lived.  And only a few of us sacrifice very much for those less fortunate than we are.  And we all have our problems with pride and arrogance in those things that we are better at than other people.  And though we are not among the rulers of the world, we do seek whatever power over other people we can manage, and all too often we exploit that for our own ends.  This verse is also a call to each of us to repentance as we realize God’s great reversal of everything may well also set us spinning.  We must understand that when the Bible speaks about God humbling the great and bringing down the high and mighty, that does not mean only somebody else.

          Many years ago my brother and I took a trip to Haiti to visit some Christian mission schools and medical clinics.  This was back before it was common for so many people to fly so often.  No one I knew needed to keep track of  frequent flyer miles.  It was our first time flying, and the Atlanta airport where we had a layover was filled not with college students going south for Spring break, and not with families on their way to Disney-world, but with what looked like wealthy businessmen and women, all impeccably dressed, on their way to do important things.  My brother and I felt like paupers in comparison to all these upper class people.  They were certainly the high and mighty, and we felt like the poor and lowly of the world.

          The next day we were in downtown Port-au-Prince.  When we walked past the market area, we were mobbed by people desperate to sell us a wood carving or woven basket or hand-made necklace.  We had more cash in our pockets than most of them would see in a year.  We were planning to buy a few things, and our missionary friend told us that whoever made a sale to us would be able to feed their children that night.  Many of the others would not.  The AIDS epidemic was just beginning then, and Haiti was listed as a place to avoid.  The tourist trade had declined by 90% and those who depended on it were desperate.  Our purchases would determine who would eat that day and who would go hungry.  No more did we feel like the downtrodden of the earth.  In less than 24 hours, we had become the high and mighty.

          God humbles the proud and lifts up the lowly, so what is in store for you?  Actually, these two very different messages apply to all of us all the time.  It is for us to keep looking to God, to remember Jesus, and to see our lives in light of his Word of promise and command.

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We bring before you, O Lord, the troubles and perils of people and nations, the sighing of prisoners and captives, the sorrows of the bereaved, the necessities of strangers, the helplessness of the weak, the despondency of the weary, the failing powers of the aged.  O Lord, draw near to each; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–St. Anselm  (1033-1109)

785) True Greatness

     The 2007 movie The Ultimate Gift begins with the funeral of a wealthy Texas oilman.  The scene then shifts to an attorney’s office where the man’s will is being read.  It is clear this family does not get along, they do not care about each other, and they obviously did not love their father and grandfather.  They are gathered together only because they are eager to get their share of the money.  And they all do receive the expected huge inheritances, far more money than any of them would ever need.  Even so, they all leave upset and bitter because they think it should have been done differently.  Finally, only one person remains in the room, a grandson named Jason.  Jason is the classic spoiled rich kid.  He has a bad attitude and seems to have hated his grandfather more than anyone, even blaming him for his father’s death.  The attorney clearly does not like Jason, and Jason does not like anybody.  

     Grandpa’s wish was for Jason to be given the contents of a sealed box.  The box is opened, and it contains nothing but a DVD disc.  The attorney plays the disc for Jason, and it is Jason’s grandpa talking to him.  Grandpa expresses his affection for Jason, and his desire to have Jason do some things before he hears about his inheritance, which may or may not be very much.  No guarantees are given, except that if Jason refuses to do what he is told, there would be absolutely nothing for him.

     Jason is irritated by the whole thing, but decides to do what he is told.  He does not yet know that what he was told to do was only the first step of what would be a very long process.  And though quite rebellious at first, Jason is drawn in toward an interest in and appreciation of what his dead grandfather is trying to tell him and do for him on this video-taped message, made in the grandfather’s dying days.

     I will describe just one of the steps the grandfather had Jason accomplish.  In one of the first video clips, grandpa’s task for Jason is that he must, within the next 30 days, find and return with one true friend, someone who will stick with him through anything.  “Well,” thinks Jason, “that will be easy– I have lots of friends.”  What Jason was not told was that the grandfather had pre-arranged that all of Jason’s credit cards would be cancelled and all his possessions taken away.  

     Jason had never worked and had never bought anything on his own, so he had no legal right to anything.  Therefore, Jason gradually found out he was penniless.  His car was towed away, he was locked out of his apartment, and his cell phone service was cancelled.  His own mother was forbidden to help him or she would lose her trust account.  In just a few days, Jason went from being a spoiled rich kid with lots of money and many friends, to being  homeless with… guess what?  No friends!  Jason can no longer support all his former ‘friends,’ but now needs them; and they are unwilling to help in any way.  No one will even give him a couch to sleep on, and Jason is out on the street.  At the end of the 30 days, and just in time, Jason does meet someone who is willing to befriend what he has now become– a scruffy looking street person.  And in that friendship with someone who is also having some troubles, Jason begins to learn some of what his grandfather was hoping to teach him.

     Jason’s uncles and aunts, his mother, and his cousins all received millions of dollars at the reading of the will.  Jason received a few videotaped words from his dead grandfather.  But what Jason received turned out to be the best gift of all; or, as the movie title says, The Ultimate Gift.

     Jesus often talked about what it means to be honored and exalted and distinguished, and, what it means to be humiliated and humbled and put in the very lowest place.  Jesus was always turning our notions of greatness upside-down, as when he said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”  There was also the time when the disciples were arguing about who among them would be the greatest, and Jesus quietly began to wash their feet, the job of slaves and servants.  Jesus then said to them, “Which of you is greater than your master?– look at me, I am among you as one who serves, and the greatest among you is the one who serves others.”

     At the beginning of the movie, the viewer might be tempted to think, “Wouldn’t it be great to inherit all that money?”  But then the viewer sees how Jason begins to grow into true greatness when he is left with nothing.  Jesus often spoke of the greatness of sharing what you have been given.  When Jason carried credit cards without limits, he lived only for himself.  But when he was left with nothing, he learned humility and how to share.

     Jesus told many parables.  These stories of everyday people would illustrate the truths he was teaching.  The Ultimate Gift is a similar ‘parable’ on the kind of life Jesus would want us to live, and it is clear that the principles being taught by grandpa are from Jesus.  Jesus even makes two or three appearances in the movie in the form of a statue in a chapel where three of the characters go for prayer.  The religious message of the movie is worked in quietly and gently, but in such a way that it cannot be missed.  The people go into the chapel and look to Jesus for guidance and wisdom and strength and hope.  The ‘ultimate gift’ is learning to live as Jesus would have us live.

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Matthew 20:16  —  (Jesus said), “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Luke 22:24-27  —  A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.”

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O God, grant your people to love what you command and desire what you promise, so that, amidst the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true joy is found.  Amen.  

–From an ancient prayer