humble servant suffering
By Linda Rex
April 1, 2021, HOLY/MAUNDY THURSDAY—As we go deeper into Holy Week, it occurs to me that Jesus portrayed a type of humanity that was courageous and assured, while at the same time, humble and service-oriented. As a divine warrior, his weapons were not what we use in battle. Generally, when we think of going to war against the enemy, we think in terms of weapons, guns, knives, and war machines. Our effort to slay the enemy is in terms of taking away the life of another human being.
But evil is not truly defeated solely using physical weapons. We may execute the perpetrators of evil, but evil itself exists in the spiritual realm. Paul says we do not war against flesh and blood—this is a spiritual battle we are in (Eph. 6:12). The reality is that the most difficult war that a man or woman wages is the war within themselves. It is the evil that is within that is the most destructive enemy of all.
So often, our defeat comes not from without us, but from within—from the passions and desires that we allow to control and consume us. We allow evil free reign within and we become enslaved to it. The apostle Paul speaks to this when he cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” And we find his immediate and joyful response right after, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25a)
Jesus is not the weak, mild-mannered man as he is often portrayed. There is an immense courage that is required when the humility of service and self-sacrifice are called upon to defeat the enemy. Christ knew what it would cost him to once and for all defeat the evil which had rooted itself in the human heart and mind. And he was willing to pay that cost freely.
On the night of his betrayal, Jesus humbly knelt and washed the feet of his disciples—a task the only the lowliest of the household servants did. When Jesus was washing Peter’s feet, Peter was offended by the idea that his teacher would stoop to such a level as to do a menial slave’s task. But Jesus said that if Peter did not allow Jesus to wash him, then he would never be clean. Jesus was not talking about washing the outside of Peter’s feet so much as washing his human flesh free of all sin, evil, and even death.
The path which leads to the removal of sin and evil is the cruciform path—there is a dying that must occur so that real life may come. And if we are not willing to allow Jesus to do what he came to do—to wash us free in this way—then we are unable to experience the precious gift of eternal life he forged for us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
Jesus was willing to go to the greatest extent possible to win the war against evil, sin, and death—even to death by crucifixion—so that the enemy would once and for all be defeated. Christ knew where Judas was headed when he left the room that night and said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” He knew exactly the price he was going to have to pay so that this war would be won and humanity would be lifted up to the place in the Triune life they were always meant to have.
We live in a culture here in America where being safe or comfortable seems to be the aim of our existence. When I think about how I was raised and how I raised my children, I realize that a lot of energy was expended keeping me and my children safe and healthy. Our current experience with the pandemic shows how we struggle with the tension between keeping ourself and others safe and taking the necessary appropriate risks to maintain relationships, provide for ourself and others, and to continue to live and work in this world. At what point to we come to the place where we are willing to risk all for the sake of others?
Right now, I can think of many people who are humbling themselves, laying down their lives in daily sacrifice for others. They are walking in the path Jesus walked when he chose voluntarily to go to the cross on our behalf.
Compare this attitude of humility and service with the attitude of the disciples when, shortly before the last supper, they were debating as to who would be first in the kingdom of God! Do you see that true courage, strength, and power are found in humility and service, not in positions of authority, popularity, and control? This is a counter-cultural way of being that Jesus forged into our humanity—that is, he conquered evil, sin, and death—through laying down his life, being a humble servant, and suffering whatever came his way for our sake and on our behalf.
On that significant night, Jesus told his disciples he was headed to a place that they could not go. He had the crucifixion on his mind and the disciples still did not grasp the magnitude of the sacrifice which was needed by each of them, and all humanity, so that they could be freed from their enslavement to evil, sin, and death. What Jesus then said was, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus was calling them, as he calls all of us, to a new level of caring for one another—to the place of courageous, humble self-sacrificial love. On his knees, Jesus humbly washed the feet of those he loved. On the cross and in death, Jesus washed all humanity—those beloved by him and his Father in the Spirit. In the resurrection, Jesus lifted us up into new life. In the sending of the Spirit, Jesus offered himself as the source of this real life in loving relationship with God and one another.
In our once-for-all baptism, and as we in an on-going way take of the bread and the fruit of the vine in communion, we find renewal, restoration, and cleansing in him, remembering the extent Christ went to in order to draw us up into the divine life and love now and forever. Let us draw upon Jesus by the Spirit for the courageous humility to love and serve one another as God meant us to, bearing witness daily to the reality of Christ’s triumphant defeat of evil, sin and death on the cross.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for including us in your life and love through your son Jesus in the Spirit. Pour into our hearts Christ’s courageous humility and heart of service. Grant us the grace to humbly and lovingly serve you and one another in gratitude for all you have done through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1(2–17, 31b–35) NASB
See also 1 Corinthians 11:23–26.