I introduced the topic of mutual submission a couple of weeks ago and wanted to jot down a few thoughts.
First, a question.
When Jesus took off his outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing the feet of the disciples, would you consider him in a position of strength or weakness?
When we hear “submission”, it has some negative connotations. We imagine one person (or group) forcing another to submit and obey. It conjures up the idea of an individual’s rights and personhood being suppressed to benefit another.
Sadly most of us can quickly think of examples of one person using their power, status and authority to make another person submit. Even sadder, many of those examples are from churches.
And yet there is that image of Jesus. Taking the role of the lowest servant to serve and submit him to the 12.
He follows this by telling them that this is an example his followers should, well, follow.
He then goes to the garden and prays, “Not my will but yours be done”.
He then willingly lays down his life.
Again, back to the original question, did Jesus do this from a position of weakness or strength?
Was it because he understood his identity, or was he unsure? Was it because he knew where he stood with the Father, or not.
I won’t belabour the point. Jesus submitted himself to his disciples…to his Father. Because he knew who he was, what he was about, and what the Father had for him.
This leads to a follow-up question…can you think of a time…in the church specifically… when you have seen that type of submission. Where one person, not because they had to but willingly submitted themselves to another as a way to demonstrate the value of that person?
We have too many examples of churches led by the larger-than-life leader. The upfront charismatic pastor who hears from God and then comes down the mountain to tell the rest of us what God’s vision is. And while I believe that model is toxic in multiple ways, one significant impact of that model is those leading our church are always out front.
If being a Christian is being a follower of Jesus, how can we learn what it means to follow? If our churches are full of people striving to lead and be out in front, who is modelling for the church what it looks like to follow?
Might this rush to be in front affect the church’s ability to help people become disciples?
As I write this, I am reminded of a retreat I attended in Washington State about 20 years ago. It was announced one night that we were holding a foot washing service. One of the participants, who had informed me multiple times how amazing he was, quickly grabbed water and a towel, went over to the national director of our denomination and began washing his feet. That was such a violation of what Jesus was communicating when he did it. While there was an appearance of submission, it was obvious that humility, submission and servanthood were not the motivation. Thinking back on that event and that individual reminded me of this:
Photo: Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown (Wikimedia Commons image)