A whirlwind of ministry came out of nowhere. Jesus appeared on the scene of an occupied nation, hailed by a wild man in a river as the one to follow. Five thousand or more at a time gathered to hang on his words, to find hope and the message each needed. Those who demanded a political overthrow followed as close as those who were abandoned or sick.
From these, Jesus chose twelve men for his closest circle of followers. They were also his succession plan, although they did not know it. His departure, imminently closer than they realized, would create a leadership gap that must be filled with those who clearly understood God's priorities in his kingdom.
He taught them in private lessons away from the crowds. He explained parables, inspired them with God's word, answered their questions, and demonstrated how to pray. Then he sent them off to perform miracles on their own, giving them a taste of ministering in his name.
They came back exuberant! Realizing they could make a difference in the world lit fires of ambition. If they stayed close to Jesus, they could share his power and glory. Some wanted assurance they could sit next to him when he ascended to the throne of victory.
No, he explained, warning that they really did not understand what they were in for. No matter, they puffed, we can handle it.
The whirlwind blew them right up to a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There had not been that many Hosannas shouted in their lifetime! "'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' and WE are with him!" the disciples likely mused.
On to the temple! The twelve were no doubt proud of their leader as he angrily toppled tables and decried religious hypocrisy. He had forewarned them of capture and death, but these acts of power and authority seemed to defy that possibility.
The evening of the Passover Seder the disciples were again privileged to be alone with Jesus. Together they recited God's saving acts for his chosen people.
This was it. Jesus was about to add a new chapter to the ancient story of God's redemptive love, but first he had to hand off his ministry. He needed to be sure that eleven of these men really understood how to lead when he was gone.
He got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, fetched a basin of water, dropped to his knees, and gently lifted someone's foot to wash it.
How could this be happening? What about the triumphal Hosannas and the kingdom of God and the throne we'll all be sitting around?! The disciples sat in amazement as Jesus washed their feet. Peter protested. Jesus continued until all experienced their leader's humble, loving touch.
"Do you understand what I have done for you?" Jesus asked. "...I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13: 12-17)
Jesus' shared many exhortations that evening, but he began his final instructions with something more powerful than words: an example. For the disciples, this was no distant observation of a miracle performed for someone else. This was an act of personal experience, of Jesus' own loving, soothing touch. If future thoughts ever rose to heights of grandeur, this powerful, sensory memory would call them back to Jesus' reality.
The example of leadership-by-foot-washing worked. The early church, and the church today, is most vibrant with servant leaders Ė those who love and empower others to live according to Godís word and example.
For many, the foot washing example may seem like another distant lesson. You can make it a powerful reality if you follow Jesus' advice: "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you DO them."
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