Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet,

what you needis not a scripture but a hoe.

_Bernard of Clairvaux_


As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service. When Jesus gathered His disciples for the Last Supper they were having trouble over who was the greatest. This was no new issue for them “And argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest“ (Lk. 9:46). Whenever there is trouble over who is the greatest there is trouble over who is the least. That is the crux of the matter for us, isn’t it? Most of us know we will not be the greatest, just don’t let us be the least.

Gathered at the Passover feast the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the others’ feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat, feet caked with dirt. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least. Then Jesus took the towel and a basin and so redefined greatness.

Having lived out servanthood before them He called them to the way of service:”If I then your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” ( Jn. 13:14,15 ). In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel, than His word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom. But in service we are banished to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial.

In Discipline of service there is also great liberty. Service enables us to say “no!” to the world’s games of promotion and authority. It abolishes our need (and desire) for pecking order, That phrase is so telling, so revealing. How like chickens we are! In the chickens pen there is no peace until it is clear who is the greatest and who is the least and who is at which rung everywhere in between.

A group of people cannot be together for very long until the “pecking order” is clearly established. We can see it so easily in such things as where people sit, how they walk in relation to each other, who always gives way when to people are talking at the same time, who stands back when a job needs to be done and who steps forward.(Depending on the job it maybe a sign of mastery or a sign of servitude). These things are written on the face of human society.

The point is not that we are to do away with all sense of leadership or authority. Any sociologist would quickly demonstrate the impossibility of such task. Even among Jesus and the disciples, leadership and authority are easily seen. The point is that Jesus completely redefined leadership and rearranged the lines of authority.

Jesus never taught that everyone had equal authority. In fact, He had a great deal to say about genuine spiritual authority of a pecking order. We must clearly understand the radical nature of what Jesus taught on this matter. He was not just reversing the “pecking order”, as many suppose. He was abolishing it. The authority of which He spoke was not an authority to manipulate and control. It was an authority of function, not of status.

Jesus declared,” You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you.” He totally and completely rejected the pecking-order system of His day. How then was it to be among them? “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant….. even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve”(Mt. 20:25-28). Therefore the spiritual authority of which Jesus spoke was an authority not found in a position or a little but in a towel.

By: Mr. Francisco B. Bautista | Samal North Elementary School | Samal, Bataan

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