The Equality of Servanthood
The Servant of Unity by St Teresa of Avila
Most men in power have not the strength or wisdom to be satisfied with the way things are.
The sane know contentment, for beauty is their lover, and beauty is never absent from this world.
The farther away light is from one’s touch, the more one naturally speaks of the need for change.
Yes, overthrow any government inside that makes you weep.
The child blames the external and forces his energies there; the warrior conquers the realms within and becomes gifted.
Only the inspired should make decisions that affect the lives of many,
Never a man who has not held God in his arms and become the servant of unity.
Let us pray:
Great and Glorious God we hope the words spoken here bring you joy as we find contentment, beauty, and light as your inspired servants. God let our heartfelt cries be part of your Mission of love, unity, and atonement which your son revealed to us over two thousand years ago during our first Lenten season.
Seventeen years ago, our country reacted to a horrible attack on our domestic soil, simply referred to today as 9/11. We reacted at that time not out of compassion, not as the inspired children of God and not as servants of unity. We, and by we I do mean myself included, called out nay cried for revenge upon those who struck terror into our hearts. Yes, I was there yelling with the masses of American people, with the US, who howled for immediate and un-forgiving re-action. But, it was not action we were looking for; rather, we desired retaliation against THEM because we were afraid and filled with hate. These emotions blocked US from the love of God and actions which could have been kinder, yet still effective.
Now, dear friends, this point is not made to call anyone else out. I am not here to judge you, even Jesus says that is God’s job. We did what we did at the time because we thought it was right; however, I do believe we can learn from those lessons in the past. To put it plainly, our re-action did stop Al-Qaeda; but, this revenge also caused many innocent civilians to die as our planes carpet bombed the Afghanistan countryside. Still, I do believe we needed an immediate action, just not one based on fear. I recall now how my horror grew in the days following 9/11 as I realized the terror and fear I felt was now originating from my own desire for revenge, not from the THEM. I had become the monster because I did not call for action with God, not as the inspired child of our only and true ruler, not as a servant of unity but I re-acted as some monster who thought the US was superior to the THEM.
That terror has escalated. We as a people of God are now facing an assortment of US and THEM dichotomies. Constructs which feed fear, hate, and revenge. We may even fall into the trap of THEM gun lovers – why can’t they see our children are being murdered in the schools and in the churches. Similar divisions are being constructed and leading to police being shot by and also shooting our civilians. Divisions and separations of prejudice and hate which have caused mosques to be burnt and cause women to be treated differently from men, people of color differently from white people or people who are LGBTQ differently from people who are sys-gendered and heterosexual. We become the enemies of each other separated into the categories of US and THEM, leaving our people torn asunder by hatred and fear.
Now before I go on let me say, these meditations are a call to action. We need to act. If nothing else our society our community, our world is yelling nay screaming for action, much like we did in the weeks following September 11, 2001. I am calling for action now but not reaction not like we did seventeen years ago. I believe this Lenten season cries out to us, reveals the mistakes we made and opens our hearts to God who is showing us a better way to approach the pain without hate and fear. Let us remember the words of Teresa of Avilla. Let her thoughts guide our hearts as we look to the scriptures for answers on how to be acting as the beloved and inspired children of God.
From the Gospel according to John this week, the quote end-quote “hour” where Jesus will depart from this world and join with God is finally upon us. This scene is the beginning of the end leading to the climax of Jesus’ story. This scene is where Jesus invites his disciples for one last supper before the betrayal, the arrest, the denial, the trial, and the crucifixion. This story begins just before the festival of Passover with Jesus welcoming his disciples to dinner. This idea or concept is amazing in and of itself; for, throughout the Gospel according to John we are confronted with an incarnated Jesus. According to this Gospel Jesus is God on earth, the word made flesh. This divine persona of Jesus does not seem to exist in the synoptic Gospels. This is not to say, the author of John is wrong, rather to honor the magnitude of this moment where our incarnated God is sitting down to eat a meal with his disciples, or followers.
Yet, before the meal, we are told about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, another tale which only appears in this Gospel. Although this point may be an inconsequential, I believe this is showing us Jesus’ mission of atonement. I know, washing the feet is a normal courtesy in the Jewish culture at that time. The host, the lord, or the teacher does not normally perform this courtesy; rather, the servants do this task for all the guests. This washing of the feet is just a common practice. But, Jesus does wash the feet of his disciples, his guests, or the incarnated God washes the feet of his disciples, his guests. This point alone should make us all read this text just a little differently.
With the above in mind, let us look at this passage realizing it is not just a simple story. Jesus says, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” This point is a clear expression that there is more going on than the singular act of washing feet before dinner. Most theologians agree this story is laden with symbolism. D. Moody Smith states the washing of the feet signifies Jesus’ death on the disciple’s behalf. Another theologian, G.H.C. Macgregor states the whole-body washing is symbolic of the baptism. In many ways, each of these theologians are accurate. Sadly, they are also missing the core beauty of this passage and what Jesus is doing and saying for not only the disciples but also for each and every one of us today.
Let us think of Jesus words to Peter who says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” So, yes, MacGregor is correct in that the bathing of water is symbolic of baptism; but, what is this “share”? I mean, when we share do we not take part in something – together. Moreover, I believe the sharing here is a more equal embodiment, or goal, which Jesus proposes when he pits it as the reward for allowing Jesus to bathe Peter. Thus, Jesus is speaking of what we now understand to be atonement, having a share with Jesus. This is the message and the gift which Jesus offers to us in the washing of the feet, atonement and unity in the divine. But again, what does this mean? How do we get there?
Well, let us turn to the idea that “servants are not greater than their master.” OK, so if I take the persona, the identity, the place of a servant in this world who is not greater than the master and, by the way is also not greater than any other servant would this not place us all in equality, in unity, and in atonement with each other. Is this ideal concept not the goal which Jesus seems to be promoting? Thus, as soon as we all become the servants of God, or the divine, we can no longer claim superiority over the Other. There is no more US and THEM; rather a simple equality of us in service to the divine authority of God.
This all said, I know in my heart the words spoken here seem idealistic. One may even say these concepts are beyond the scope of humankind. We are not God, we are not Jesus, we are not the incarnated divine who washed Judas’ feet turning this betraying THEM into an atoned US. We still have hatred and fear when our innocent children are murdered, we still need action and immediate action; but, it is action through God we need. We need to become the inspired children of God, loving the beauty of this world, embracing the identity of God’s servant which places no other human being below us.
It is idealistic to think this mission of servanthood will happen today, but it can happen as we move about the world. It can happen when we remember to pray like Bob did last week – when we cry out not for THEM but for our brothers and sisters, as the US. When we ask God to provide US clarity in prayer, even when part of US have opposing views in such things like gun control. The point is my friends, the mission of servanthood is not something unwieldy; but, it is something big.
Therefore, I ask you to let the concept permeate your heart. Remind yourself that everyone is a person first not an Other or a THEM. The person is not a republican, a democrat, a gun lover, a gun hater etc. etc. etc. The person is a person, first, and a beautiful servant to the divine, we call God. This mission of servanthood is one way to guide you to atonement – a mindset where we are no better, no worse than anyone else. A place where we will wash the feet of those who would betray us sharing with them the divine love of our Creator.