November 17, 2014

Humility and serving others

Yesterday I struggled with what God had shown me, knowing He is right about my pride and my tendency to rely on some people more than I should. Jesus does not think that way, and because He lives in me and has given me His mind, I’m not to think that way either.

However, knowing what to do is far easier than actually doing it. How does anyone change their habits? The Bible says changing them is like a leopard trying to change its spots. Apart from the grace of God, I’m stuck . . . yet one definition of grace is “seeing Jesus and being changed” by what I see. So today, God gives me another look at Jesus.

This view is the familiar narrative describing how He washed the feet of His disciples. As I read it, I can see more of how His mind works (and more of how my thinking fails to measure up). The passage is John 13:1–17.

First, Jesus knew it was nearly time for his death. He knew where He was going and knew the people God had entrusted to His care. And He loved them. I don’t know when I will die (and likely don’t need to, at least not yet), but I do know where I am going. I also have some idea of those God has entrusted to me, and I do love them, but not as much as Jesus loves them.

Second, Jesus knew that He had been given all things. He also knew He had come from God and was going back to God. God tells me I have all I need, but I seldom act like it. I’m always feeling needy, or often wanting something I don’t have. I know where I came from and know I am going back to God, but deep is my knowledge? For Jesus, His understanding led Him to do the task of a servant as a gesture of His love and as an example to His disciples of how to care for each other. I have greater freedom to serve others than this time last year, yet still am often very uncertain. I worry about acceptance and about “doing it right” and about the value of doing it at all.

Third, Jesus also knew how to answer those who misunderstood what He was doing, such as Peter who didn’t want Jesus to serve him. When Peter did understand, he asked for more than was needed. Jesus was not put on the spot by Peter’s brash ignorance. He knew how to set him straight without being offensive. That happens to me all the time; the misunderstanding part, not the part about knowing how to respond. I’m more like Peter. I want Jesus to be glorified and treated as the King of Glory, but don’t quite know how to act if I’m treated worse or better than I deserve.

Fourth, theologians disagree about the significance and practice of foot-washing, even if they agree that serving others is important. I also know this is true, but how? What is the best way to cheer a discouraged Christian? Or feed a homeless beggar? Or help a person in prison? Or do anything for others? For some, this seems easy, even natural. For me, I wonder if I think too much. If a child spills his popcorn, getting him another bowl is easy. If my mother’s shoes pinch her feet, buying her another pair seems straightforward. But what do I do when a mentally ill person asks a deep theological question, or a child is crying because his grandmother was killed in a drive-by shooting? When it comes down to it, washing feet seems much easier and Jesus did wash their feet.

If foot washing is an example of having a servant heart, and of thinking with the mind of God, it could then be any number of kind and thoughtful actions. For some, this is simple. For me, I have too many ideas and solutions that become complicated.

Maybe I think too much, or maybe the problem goes back to pride . . .  because at the end, after Jesus told them He had given them an example and that they should do just as He had done, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

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