Russell Moore begins the conversation by pointing to Scripture when Jesus washes Peter’s feet. Moore asks Mika Edmondson what he thinks we can learn from Jesus about power and authority as it relates to serving one another inside and outside the church.
Edmondson answers by saying that authority in the church is not exercised in the same way as authority outside the church. He says that one of the conspicuous ways we are to function is by not lording it over one another like the Gentiles do, but looking to Jesus’s example. Jesus shows us this by actually taking the place, not just of a servant, but the lowest servant in that social setting.
Edmondson says leadership must be a kind of servant leadership, a leadership that’s willing to put others’ interests before our own, willing to associate with the lowly and the downtrodden, willing to sacrifice for the good of others.
Moore points out that Jesus leads, but not toward his own interests. Instead, he leads toward Peter’s in this moment of washing his feet. And this act shows how we are to lead—by serving.
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This episode was produced by Heather Calvillo and Steven Morales.
Russell Moore: You know, Mika and there’s some Christian traditions that have had foot washing as part of regular services, as kind of one of the ordinances of the church, but in those traditions that don’t have that, when we come to that passage, that really powerful moving passage of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, particularly washing Simon Peter’s feet, what do you think we should learn from that in terms of authority and power in the way that we treat each other in church and outside the church?
Mika Edmondson: That’s a great question. I think that the first thing we need to learn is that authority in the church is not exercised in the same way as authority outside of the church. That’s one of the kind of distinctive things that Jesus talked about. One of the conspicuous ways in which we are to function is not lording it over one another like the Gentiles do, right? And Jesus tells his disciples that it must not be that way among you. And then, he actually exemplifies this by actually taking the place, not just of a servant, but the lowest servant in that social setting. Right? The servant, the household servant that would wash the feet of the guests and the visitors.
And so, Jesus actually puts himself in that place, much to the shock of his disciples, and he actually goes down and he washes their feet as a pattern to show us how we are to exercise leadership. That leadership must be a kind of a servant leadership, a leadership that puts others’ interests before our own, a leadership that’s willing to associate with the lowly and the downtrodden, and a leadership that’s willing to really sacrifice for the good of others.
Russell Moore: When I think about it, I think about really two things. First of all, is just what leadership is toward. I mean, when you think about Ephesians 5 where Paul says that Christ washes his Church with the pure water of the word. Well, we see Jesus actually doing that with Simon Peter. And the response is… Peter says, “I don’t want you to wash my feet.” And Jesus leads, but it’s not toward his own interests, but toward Peter’s.
And so, I think that shows us something about leadership. But also for me personally, I’ve always been the kind of person who sometimes is really reluctant for people to do anything for me, not out of humility, but out of pride. We were at a place in our lives early on in my marriage where we didn’t have the financial resources that we needed.
Mika Edmondson: I can relate to that, my brother.
Russell Moore: Yeah, and people came to help us. And I did not want that to happen. And somebody pointed that passage out to me, a dear friend, who said, you know, “You’re in the situation that Peter was in where he’s not wanting Jesus to wash his feet, not because he’s so humble, but because he’s too prideful to allow himself to be served in that way.”
And I think that there are a lot of people that grapple with that. We tend to think, well, independence, self-sufficiency, and I’m the one who can minister to, but I don’t want to be ministered to myself. And that can feel like humility, but it’s actually pride. And I think eventually, when Jesus sanctifies us, he gets us all into the situation where we really do need people. Even just… I think of the life cycle, and when in John 21, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “When you were young, you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to, but the day will come when others will dress you and take you where you do not want to go.” Well, I think Jesus is kind of teaching him that in that moment of washing the feet. You really are dependent on other people and that can be a hard lesson learned.
Mika Edmondson: That can be a really hard lesson. Yeah, that’s right. It takes real humility to be able to stoop down to accept that we are desperately dependent upon Jesus to wash us. And then a lot of times, once he does wash us, we aren’t completely confident in the washing. Right? Because that’s exactly what happens next. I mean, after Jesus washes Peter or while it’s about to happen, he says, “Look, not just my feet, but everything.” Everything. So now that Jesus is going to do this for him, he’s like, “Well, I’m not certain that what you’ve done for me is going to be enough to cover me.” You know? So, that’s another aspect of it.
I’m really struck by the fact that, you know, when we think about foot washing, I think we think about it from a very sanitized 21st century Western context. We kind of think about people who walk around in Dr. Scholl’s, and orthopedic shoes, and socks, and all this kind of stuff. But in the first century, in the ancient Near East, that was a whole different level of dirt, and grime, and filth that people walked around in. And I mean, just caked up over time, you know? And so this was a real nitty gritty task that Jesus set himself to. And I think that’s something that we have to reckon with, the length to which we are willing to go to serve our brothers and sisters.