“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13)
Knowing the commands of Christ, let this be our way of life: let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty drink, let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers, let us visit those in prison and the sick. Then the judge will say even to us: Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the realm prepared for you! (Byzantine Vespers)
It must be that I receive an invitation to a leadership conference almost everyday. And it must be that I have not received a flyer for a servanthood conference in years! Why is that? If we are at least trying to follow and emulate our Lord Jesus, why is that?
It’s Jesus, God incarnate, who gives bread and wine to his disciples while he says, “My body, broken for you, my blood shed for you” — it is Jesus, God incarnate, who then ties a towel around his waist and bows down to wash the feet of his friends. That task is one saved for the lowest level servant/slave in a household of the day. This, he says, is the example he leaves behind, and he talks about DOING it — you should DO for each other as I have DONE for you.
This servant life, this life of self-sacrifice, self-giving, is not merely or mostly a frame of mind, or a preferred posture. No, it is what we DO. We DO with ourselves — our bodies, our calendars, and our checkbooks — what Jesus has done for us. We are constantly looking for ways to love others by serving them — their needs, their comfort, their well-being.
It’s interesting to reflect on this DOING for others in light of our lenten disciplines which tend primarily toward our own selves– that is, what food I will not eat, and what spiritual disciplines I will embrace. The exception it seems is almsgiving. Alms or Almsgiving are physical gifts intended to help those who are poor or in need. I think Almsgiving gets short shrift; it’s almost always third on the list. I also think Almsgiving gets us closet to our foot-washing, cross bearing Savior.
The 17th century poet Robert Herrick was thinking on this when he wrote “To Keep a True Lent”:
Is this a Fast, to keep the larder lean? And clean From fat of veals and sheep? Is it to quit the dish of flesh, yet still To fill the platter high with fish? Is it to fast an hour, Or ragg’d to go, Or show A down-cast look and sour? No: ’tis a Fast to dole Thy sheaf of wheat And meat With the hungry soul. It is to fast from strife And old debate, and hate; To circumcise thy life. To show a heart grief-rent; To starve thy sin, Not bin; And that’s to keep thy Lent.
Here’s the thought, the invitation, the command, that our Self-giving, our service, our DOING for others become the fruit of our personal spiritual disciplines. So our praying leads us to practical acts of service. Our fasting leads us to pack up a meal for others.
the point is that as soon as the Good News of the Gospel is about us — and it is about us — it is not about us anymore, but about our friend, our neighbor, and especially others in the world who are diminished. “I once was lost and now I see” — I have experienced the loving act of Jesus washing my feet. Now this love is what I am called to DO! It’s wonderful, and challenging.