Jesus often turned society’s way of doing things on its head. A poor woman gives a penny but gives more than the rich who offer bags of money. The poor in spirit enter the kingdom of God but the proud are rejected. Impurity is what comes out of a person’s heart rather than what dirt can be washed off. However, nothing was more topsy-turvy than washing the disciples’ feet.
The alpha male is the man who rises to the top of his pack, leads the way, and demands submission from others. It may be an endowed position or an earned one. Either way the comparison to a wolf pack reminds me that we think ourselves too aligned with animal behavior. Having a dominant person in some ways may just mean that we need leadership, but to mimic the leadership behavior in a pack of animals does no justice to humanity. Animal rights activists notwithstanding, we are more than animals.
The female version of the alpha male is the queen bee. She is the center of life in a bee colony but the center of attention in a group of females. Like the alpha male, whatever the queen wants the queen gets. As men left to the evil side of their human nature become domineering over their peers, so women engage in a power struggle to rise above the others. In our day, power seems to be the most important thing many want young women to embrace. For example, portrayals of women on TV and in movies as being dominant fighters over much larger men create a narrative that women can be truly powerful.
Jesus behaves much differently. In John 13, we see an entirely new leadership model: Jesus takes the role of a servant and washes the disciples’ feet. Though only Peter speaks up about such behavior, the others must have wondered about it. Right up to the night of the Last Supper the Apostles had argued who was to be the greatest among them (Luke 22:24-26). Jesus tells them they are to serve not be served like the kings of the Gentiles who lord it over their subjects.
Jesus performs this act out of confidence in and knowledge of his role: “You call me teacher and Lord—and you are speaking rightly, since that is what I am.” He never denies but rather reaffirms that he is at the top of the ladder. Yet by performing a humble act of service for those under his authority he radically redefines leadership.
Such a monumental shift must not go unnoticed. It was the Son of God who washed their feet. It was the Son of God who humbled himself to die on behalf of sinful humanity. It was nothing less than a shocking display of humility and service. From the most important government official to the business manager to husbands, the new model of leadership challenges the way we view authority. Dominance is out; service is in.
See the Conversation on John 13 here.
Copyright 2023, Robert Weber, Words Done Right LLC, and The Lazarus Chronicles.