What does it look like for you to be successful? At the end of the day and you think, “was this a good day, was I successful today,” what does that like for you? How about if you were to judge the culmination of your life’s work, what would being successful look like for you then?
How about this for successful? Large cheering crowds chanting your name, slapping you on your back and congratulating you, your closest friends grinning, waving and clapping their hands as the crowds call your name? Would that be a good indicator that you finally made it, you were a success?
What about this? A solitary man in a room alone with his closest friends, one of those friends so dear to his heart is on his way out the door at that very moment to eagerly sell out his friend for a few dollars and another one of his dearest friends will swear to heaven and earth he never met him before. That same solitary man, who looks like he has the care of the world etched into his forehead, strips off his outer clothing and kneels down to wash his friend’s feet.
It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around the gravitas of that simple action. We who normally wear shoes and even when we don’t or we run around with sandals, our country has running water and showers, pedicures and special feet bathing machines. We don’t have a concept of spending hours upon hours walking through the dust and dirt, trying to side step but never really succeeding, around the animal droppings and human excrement covering the roads and paths. Walking through all of this in simple strapped sandals that cover very little of your skin. At the end of the day a servant would clean off this filth, no gloves or sanitizing wipes, inches from the stench, touching it with their bare hands and not even receiving a nod of thanks at the end. Cleaning the feet of others was a menial task, lowly to the point of being degrading and humiliating. Does that sound successful?
Of course, how you will define if you were successful at the end of the day will have a lot to do with what you are trying to accomplish. If you understand your goals and purpose but I think more importantly, if you understand who you are and are trying to be and in the expression of your life maintain the integrity of your identity, that will help you define success. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when people start cheering your name to help you feel successful but what if that never comes?
What if the crowds never cheer your name, what if they cry out “crucify him” instead? What if they choose to save a murderer and nail you to a cross? What if all of your friends desert you and it is only you and God? What about when the integrity of your self-expression is found in the cleaning of other people’s feet; can you be at peace knowing that no one will ever slap you on the back and tell you how smart and successful you are, if no one remembers your name?
On Maundy Thursday and indeed throughout the whole passion we remember how God revealed Himself fully to the world and maintained the integrity of that revelation even though no one would call it successful. This is who God is. A suffering servant kneeling down in the utter filth of human sin and with His own blood washing clean the stain of sin upon our soul. This is what love does and He loved them and us to the end; that is to the utmost, there was nothing that God did not do to love us. This is what success means for God.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
God kneeling down and taking upon himself the degrading and humiliating role of the servant washing feet sets the pattern of living for those who would walk in His footsteps in faith, to know his passion so we too might know his resurrection. But when we say pattern, this isn’t only about an outward imitation of Jesus’ actions (though that is a part of it) but also an inward washing of the heart and mind, God washing clean our sinful identity of selfish pride and giving us a new identity and a new definition of what it means to be successful. To look back at the end of the day and the end of your life’s work and the end of your life and say with a sense of peace it is finished?
Let me suggest, for us, there must be two parts to this. The first, as our Lord himself said to Peter, “I must wash you or you will not be clean.” To be successful is simply to know in the confidence of faith we have been washed clean by the blood of Christ. In whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, whether cheering crowds or lonely streets, Jesus is where our joy and peace, our success is found.
Secondly, for us to learn to enter into those places with others, were they are lonely, hurt, lost, broken, vulnerable and alone, not with a desire to fix it but to share in their suffering, to let your heart break for what breaks the heart of God, to feel their pain as if it is your own, to walk with them. This is what the full expression of “God is love” means in the life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ and this is how the love of Christ living in us can find its expression in our daily-lived life. A successful life even though no one will ever cheer our name.
We who gather together as a church family must ask ourselves this same question, what will it mean at the end of the day for us to consider ourselves successful as a church family? Will it be for crowds to cheer our name and applaud what we have done? Or will it be found in the quiet confidence of knowing and being known by our God and the outward expressions of the love of Christ.