Summary: Jesus’ time of crucifixion was drawing near and here he sat, with his leadership team for the future who still didn’t get it – talk about a desperate and seemingly fruitless reality. Since none moved, Jesus did it. The towel that Jesus wrapped around him
Most of you will be familiar with the term and concept of servant-leadership. It is not a new concept of course. Corporate North America didn’t come up with it and the bright minds of the world didn’t phrase it as a new discovery. One of the Army’s earliest references to servant-leadership is that of Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle, holiness teacher, Salvation Army officer, preacher and author. The Forward of the book was issued by the second General of The Salvation Army in 1923 in London, England, Bramwell Booth, son of the founder, William Booth. In that book Brengle draws attention to Scripture and the language of the apostles’ introduction of themselves – James calls himself “a servant of God”; Jude uses “the servant of Jesus Christ”; Peter labels himself “a servant and an apostle” and there are others. Brengle notes that the apostles used this word “servant” at a time when it spoke of shameful labor and presented one as being inferior to the mainstream of society. The meaning of their use of it was slave. This is where Brengle coined the title of his book, the title of this sermon, Love Slaves. To be a servant leader is to be a love slave. It is the same picture of that presented by our Canadian troops who have chosen to voluntarily serve in the war against terrorism and in the restructuring initiatives abroad. They do so because of love of Country and countrymen and women and even love for people they don’t know in the countries they find themselves. Theirs is an act of being love slaves or servant leaders.
Rick Warren simply defines a servant as one “always on the lookout for ways to help others.” He continues with the definition. “Real servants maintain a low profile. Servants don’t promote or call attention to themselves. Instead of acting to impress and dressing for success, they “put on the apron of humility, to serve another” [1 Peter 5:5, TEV). If recognized for their service, they humbly accept it but don’t allow notoriety to distract them from their work.” (Purpose Driven, page 259, 262).
In seeking to understand this concept of servant leadership we will look to the Master who does all things well and gives us the examples we need. The very first lesson about loves slaves or servant leaders is
I. The extent to which love will go
This experience may have taken place in the home of Simon the leper, in Bethany. The Passover meal (celebration of deliverance from Egyptian slavery) was only two days off. When they gathered in this specially provided place, there would have been everything they needed, including the basin, water and towel for the courtesy foot-washing as they walked in the door. This was not ritual but a practical response to the fact that everyone’s feet was dusty or muddy, depending on the weather conditions, so they needed their feet washed before they could sit and relax. Being that possibly no one but Jesus and the twelve would have been in the house, it was their responsibility to assume this role. Anyone could have done it. But none of the disciples offered. Why? They felt themselves to be of stature, seeking prominence in the Lord’s Kingdom. These were the same ones who butted each other for “greatest in the Kingdom” status. Jesus’ time of crucifixion was drawing near and here he sat, with his leadership team for the future who still didn’t get it – talk about a desperate and seemingly fruitless reality.
Since none moved, Jesus did it. The towel that Jesus wrapped around himself was the suggestive posture and actions of a slave. He did this fully conscious of his Godhead and authority. As a result it was a more humbling and humiliating stance than it would have been for any of his followers. Theologian William Barclay suggests that Jesus was nearer to God at this point of his earthly life than he had ever been. It was that very nearness that brought him nearer to humanity than he had ever been.
This act comes at an interesting time, a pre-crucifixion lesson of the humiliation and love-slave heart Jesus would assume not too long from now.
We are never nearer God then when we stoop to perform the lowest of tasks. There is a legend of St. Francis of Assisi (Assisi – a town in Italy. St. Francis – founded the Franciscan religious order in 1208). He was, in his early years, a wealthy and prestigious man. With all his wealth and prestige he was also very unhappy and void of purpose. While riding his horse one day, he came upon a leper, full of sores and grotesque like no leper he had ever seen. On previous experiences he simply rode around them but this time he was moved to dismount and hug the leper. He wrapped his arms tightly around the leper and as he did so, the leper turned into Jesus.