Friday, September 13, 2013

A Bowl and a Towel

It sat folded at the end of the table.  There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing of note.  It was a plain piece of cloth made of a solid weave.  This simple towel had a very base function - the wiping of feet dirty feet.  Among the common man better cloths were utilized for the washing and drying of hands.  The houses of the wealthy were adorned with silks and linens.  This fabric had no place among the wealthy.  This textile would wipe the road filth and dust from legs, ankles, and toes.  It was an unimportant weave in the background of an evening meal.
The bowl was plain, unadorned, and unremarkable.  Serving platters and dining boards would all be placed on the table in preparation of the meal.  This bowl would sit in the corner, unheeded until necessary.  Like the towel, this bowl had a lowly function.  Like the towel, this receptacle was of little importance to the planned events of the approaching evening.
As the meal hour approached they began to arrive.  First one, then two and three, then a half dozen, ten, and finally the room was filled.  The smells of the evening's feast made hungry mouths salivate in anticipation.  The room was permeated with the din of conversations and discussions.  Some were jovial, some were heated, all were impassioned.  One man sat quietly taking it all in. 
This man had been observing the rest for some time, listening to the myriad conversations.  Occasionally a smile would cross his face and slowly melt.  It was evident he was absorbing from the rest, drinking in their words.  If one were to study this man for long, one would note a wave of sorrow pass over his face as if some distant memory or premonition would occasionally remove him from the moment.  As the room's volume soared, trays laden with food began to be brought out and the occupants eagerly engaged the fare and the conversations with renewed vigor.  There were even debates among some as to which of them were more important and who among them were worthy of  highest honor.
Quietly the man stood and walked over by the empty bowl.  Turning his back to the meal he removed his outer cloak and garments and stripped naked to the waist.  All discussions died to a murmur as he took the folded towel from the corner of the the table and wrapped his waistline with it.  He then proceeded to fill the bowl with water from a nearby pitcher.  Kneeling by those at the head of the table, he quietly began removing their dust laden sandals.  The room was now silent except for the sound of sprinkling water as he wordlessly washed road grime and dirt from their feet.  Using the towel, he dabbed water and remaining mud from their legs and feet.  First one, then another, he moved on to the next and then on the next as the observers gaped in nervous astonishment.
In each of their minds was the singular thought that this was the task of servants and slaves!  He who was performing this act, was no slave.  Each of them firmly believed he was chosen to rule.  As he gently bathed and caressed each foot, cleansing away past traffic and erasing evidence of paths traveled, each of them could only marvel that they should be the ones performing this act for Him, not this reversal of roles as it was playing out. 
Finally the last to be washed raised his hands in refusal.  Pride would not see the teacher stoop below the disciple.   "Unless I do this, you will have no part of me" was the reply.  Pride had no place here.  He went further to explain that each of them should be ready and ever willing to follow his example even to engage in, what is perceived to be the lowest act, to serve each other.  This was his way, humble, compassionate, and filled with love for one another.
Often we remember the "Last Supper" for the communion elements, as we should.  We remember it, too, for relevance of the Passover Feast to the Crucifixion and rightly so.  We'll even remember it for the calling out of a traitor and his 30 pieces of silver.  Far too seldom do we remember it for the lesson taught by a bowl and a towel.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

If the Shoe Fits

I would tell you about the things they put me through
The pain I've been subjected to
But the Lord himself would blush
The countless feasts laid at my feet
Forbidden fruits for me to eat
But I think your pulse would start to rush

Now I'm not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things I do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes

These lyrics are from a song and a band I used to regularly listen to a few moons ago.  I happened upon it recently and it struck a bit of a chord with me.  I'm pretty sure they do not share my worldview or even faith-views.  The words of this song speak of pain, a darkened road traveled and the permissible nature of paths chosen as a result - not exactly uplifting material.  None-the-less, there is a grain of truth in this that I find of interest and worth exploring in relationship to today's conversations regarding compassion, grace, and salvation.

Recent life events have placed my family firmly in the cross hairs of those who would criticize, judge, and cast stones.  It is, by now, no secret in these writings that friendships have been sacrificed, family has parted company, betrayals have been present, and few have truly been in the trenches with us for the duration.  For this I can honestly say I am thankful.  I am beginning to come to the place where I do not begrudge.  Rather I begin to identify with our Savior in Luke 14:25-27 where relationships with others are to be viewed as secondary in correlation to our fellowship and desire to follow our Lord - even at the expense of earthly relationships.

And where some would point to my past mistakes as evidence of missed callings and an incorrect perception of the Lord's will for my family; all I can say is "Try walking in my shoes".  But this ballad didn't recently catch my attention to become a personal anthem in which to chant to others in self defense.  Rather, what caught me was the notion that I have been failing to take note of the paths that others have been traversing to place them in the path of needed grace.  I have been lacking in my willingness to acknowledge the myriad routes others have been brought forth from and unwilling to readily offer deprived compassion.  As a result, I have often been blinded to the individual's heart condition, judging by appearances as many listed above have done to me.

In the verses from above, Jesus tells us we must take up our cross.  This is a familiar catch phrase in Christian Verbology 101, but we have so far to go in truly exploring the depth of the meaning of this simple phrase.  Repeatedly we read of Jesus' compassion for the individual and the masses.  It moved him, it directed him, it caused him to alter planned paths of travel, planned appointments, made him late for dinners, caused him to weep, at times made his stomach churn as it moved his inner most being.  This compassion caused him to engage on the recipients level - not sin, but engage.  In this state, he could relate, he could look the person in the eye and say "I know where your shoes have walked - I understand."

He knelt by the prostitute after those bent on her death had left muttering for being themselves shamed.  In kneeling next to her, he could look her in the face and say "I know where you've been, I know the darkened streets you've walked, I know about the men and it doesn't affect me - just stop doing it."  He could call to a height-challenged-cheat of a tax collector, call him out of the branches of  a look out tree and look him in the eye and say "I know about it all, I know you've stolen from your neighbors, I know no one likes you, but I don't care - I want to eat with you".  He can look at you and I and recite every despicable thought and action we've engaged in and looking us squarely in the face say "I know where you've walked, what you've done.  I know where your shoes have been and I don't care - I still want you."

This compassion, this grace, this love is the Cross.  This is the cross we are to daily pick up and walk out towards others.  This is the oil that binds the deepest wounds that are daily moving about us in the guises and facades that people cover over their hearts and minds.  This is Christ in us shining forth.  If the world around us saw this they wouldn't see the individual "christian" - they would see a Savior, they would see hope, they would see a purpose and a future.  They would see love.  Too often we want to share the gospel without engaging the heart and the heart cannot be engaged without compassion for the individual.  We have to walk in the love and compassion of our Lord before we can reach the one needing Heaven's touch.  The love of our Savior has to be present in us to be effective towards others - this requires understanding the path of another.  These are shoes we must all choose to walk in.