Existence for Others: Following Jesus Means Renouncing Our Rights

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, by Ford Maddox Brown. Image Source: Wikipedia

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. […] A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(John 13:12-17, 34-35 NIV)

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)

For most Christian traditions, today is Maundy Thursday, the day in Holy Week where we remember Jesus’ last day with his disciples before the crucifixion, especially the Last Supper. This was when, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus exemplified his character as a servant by washing his disciples feet.  I remember very vividly participating in foot-washing ceremonies at church that were meant to remind us that following in the way of Jesus means serving others. While my tradition does not do foot washing with any regularity, my experiences of this did leave a profound impression on me.

When I reflect on what this means for Christians in today’s world, I wonder whether – especially when it comes to our political advocacy – we have a tendency to apply this principle only as far as our moral comfort zone will allow (which often doesn’t extend far beyond the church door). We worry about the infringement of our rights in a world that doesn’t seem to any longer share traditional Christian values. And so we have pastors thumbing their noses at the IRS (and jeopardizing their organizations’ tax exempt status) each election cycle on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday“, and Christians backing legislation that guarantees the rights of traditionally-minded people to refuse to do business with LGBTQ folks (Indiana is the state currently taking heat for this sort of thing, but they are by no means alone).

With the culture war reaching a fever pitch (ok, it’s been there for a while), many are concerned that freedom of speech and freedom of religion may be in peril. But whose freedom? When Christians “take a stand for freedom” in our country it almost always means taking a stand for the freedom of people like us, especially for other Christians and their freedom to stand against anything in our culture believed to be wrongheaded or sinful. 

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