“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The servant and devaluing roles

I was thinking again about the training I received in social role valorization (see March 21, 2007 entry). As Christians we are called to be the servant of all. The servant role is, in our society, a devalued role. There is value in being served, not in serving. Serving implies that someone else is "better than me" where being served implies that I am "better than someone else." At least that is what I think our society might say. Politicians like to refer to themselves as public servants, but I think most would agree that is more rhetoric than truth.

Jesus, however, saw things differently. In John 13, he was interested in teaching a lesson to his followers when he washed their feet. "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
Peter understood the ramification of Jesus taking on a devalued role (at least he thought he did) and would have no part of it.
Jesus responded, "Unless I wash you, you have not part with me."

It is amazing, but Jesus forever changed the meaning of washing someone's feet (no doubt, a commmon although devalued role in his time, as once again evidenced by Peter's statement). I suppose in non-Christian societies, it would still be considered demeaning. In Christian societies, it has ever since been associated with servanthood and being like Jesus. The devalued role has now become associated with something beautiful, and it is an example. Jesus even labels is as such "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

In our society, serving persons with severe disabilities might be considered a devalued role. Teachers of students with severe disabilities will have the experience of being told by their own families, "Why would you waste your time with those kids?" For that matter why would anyone "waste their time with such people?" If the church would embrace persons with severe disabilities (I mean SEVERE disabilities) we would change the meaning of such service. We would bring it honor in the same way that Jesus did via his example of service. We would be in the honorable position of setting an example such that others should do as we have done for others. So we would make the role valued by our desire to do it.

Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet also brought honor to them. Peter recognized that Jesus should not be washing his feet. However, by Jesus washing their feet, he not only taught a lesson to them about servanthood, he brought honor to them. Imagine being one of the 12 people who ever lived who had the Lord of the universe humble himself to wash your feet. Pretty elite group. The point, however, is that I bring honor to people when I serve them. Those I serve may be just as lacking in understanding as Peter was, but I understand what I am doing.
I understand that I am setting an example.
I understand that I am elevating that form of service.
I understand that I am demonstrating the worth of those I serve via my service.
I understand who I am in relation to the person whom I am serving. They are not above or below me, they are my equal.
If I allow myself to be inconvenienced, or better yet, choose to inconvenience myself in the name of service to another who society has devalued, I contribute to the valuing of that person. Particularly if I am a person of stature in the community.

It is amazing to think about the depth of meaning than can come from a valued person washing the feet of others. It is amazing to think of the depth of meaning I have the potential to bring to a situation when I as a person who has value in society's eyes, serve those who society has devalued. Perhaps I will bring value to them. Cool.


1 comment:

Neil said...

I have thought a lot about this picture of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, particularly as it relates to the 'disabled'. The implications of the Creator of the universe 'bending' to wash the feet of His creation. The One in whom all things are created by, through and for (Col 1:15-18)-- what that suggests to me is that the 'Image of God' as created beings, is not found in our intellect as suggested by Thomas Aquinas - but is gifted to us by an expression of God's love. I can think of no other expression that so completely demonstrates this more than in this passion picture of Christ bending to washing the feet of His disciples. Who met them in their most disabled,weakened and vunerable state. Without them realizing it, Jesus infuses them with eternal value - not based on their identity, intellect, ability or performance - but solely from His desire to love those whom He has created. For me, disability is not a specific designation, it is a very small continum - This really came to light when one of our support workers shared with me, "I have come to the conclusion we are all disable, it's simply a matter of degree" - If Jesus considered us enough to 'bend' from His eternal place, how little distance we have to 'bend' to serve each other - inclusively.