UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Monday, September 9, 2013

15 The Servant Is Not Greater Than His Lord

 John 13:1-16

15 The Servant Is Not Greater Than His Lord

 John 13:1-16
  1Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
2During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him,
3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,
4got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
 5Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
6So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?”
7Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.”
8Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
9Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
10Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”
11For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.

This scripture has been very meaningful to me since the very beginning of my career as a Christian. From my earliest years, one of my big gripes against God was that I was not getting what I deserved—I looked around me at people less qualified than I, less capable, less inspired, and yet they were reaping worldly rewards that seemed to be, and indeed eventually proved to be, completely beyond my reach. I thought that my superiority as a music professional earned me some rights, some privileges, above and beyond the common. It was the picture of Jesus, the most highly qualified of all, doing menial labor, that finally impressed me with the idea that with great gifts do not necessarily come great rewards, but, rather, great responsibilities. I had previously thought that my gifts justified an exalted place in the hierarchy of men, but after reading this scripture I realized that a position of humble service was the highest exaltation I could ever achieve. True, I am wracked with depression, now and again, over my lowly impoverished state, but then I remember the small flock of my own devoted disciples to whom I minister steadfastly on a daily basis, and I rejoice. Furthermore, I acknowledge that it was a pre-ordained destiny that brought me to this place; nowadays, imagining myself in other more elevated situations, endowed with more worldly honor and respect, seems more a matter prideful distraction than an actual desire.
The insight was so integral to my evolving spiritual conversion, that I set the scripture to music. Here is a synthesized recording of the piece:

What follows are some commentaries on the scripture.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Because of their incessant bickering about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom (Luke 22:24-27), Jesus gave the disciples an object lesson designed to show them what their real position was under Him. He tells them, "He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves" (verse 26). He shows them that they must be willing to do whatever task—even the most menial—that is necessary for the good of their brothers. This should have put them in the proper attitude for the Passover's greater purpose, Christ's sacrifice for our forgiveness and redemption.

Exegetical (explanatory) Commentary on John 13
Study By: W. Hall Harris III
From the Series:
Commentary on the Gospel of John
13:15 Jesus tells his disciples after he has finished washing their feet that what he has done is to set an example for them. In the previous verse he told them they were to “wash one another’s feet”. What is the point of the example? If it is simply an act of humble service, as most interpret the significance, then Jesus is really telling his disciples to serve one another in humility rather than seeking preeminence over one another. If, however, the example is one of self-sacrifice up to the point of death, then Jesus is telling them to lay down their lives for one another.

by K.W. Leson--More Christ website 


Some commentators point out that foot-washing was, properly, a slave’s job. Of course, the poor didn’t own slaves, and had to wash their own feet. But in the ancient Jewish culture, the students of a rabbi were considered his slaves—in both his mind and theirs. He was their teacher and lord, and it was their honor and privilege to not just learn from this holy man, but to do every little thing for Him. Like have food ready for Him or go get it or fix dinner or clean up after Him while He waited; like get things ready for Him, go where He instructed them, and carry His messages. Properly, they should have washed Jesus’ feet. And they probably had.

The idea of a rabbi washing His students’ feet, however, was unthinkable in the ancient Jewish culture. What Jesus was doing to them simply was not done. It was considered beneath His dignity. It would lower Him in most people’s opinion—which is something He was willing to risk. It humiliated Him. But considering how great Jesus is, it didn’t humiliate Him. It elevated service.


John 13 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Having taken off his outer garment (himation), Jesus was left with his tunic (chiton), a shorter garment like a long undershirt. Slaves would be so dressed to serve a meal. Jesus tied a linen cloth around his waist with which to dry their feet, obviously not what one would expect a master to do. A Jewish text says this is something a Gentile slave could be required to do, but not a Jewish slave. On the other hand, footwashing is something wives did for their husbands, children for their parents, and disciples for their teachers. A level of intimacy is involved in these cases, unlike when Gentile slaves would do the washing. In Jesus' case, there is an obvious reversal of roles with his disciples. The one into whose hands the Father had given all now takes his disciples' feet into his hands to wash them.

Slaves were looked down upon in the ancient world, and Peter cannot stand the thought of his teacher doing the work of a slave. It would have been appropriate for one of the disciples to have washed Jesus' feet, but the reverse is intolerable. In the Greek both pronouns, you and my, are emphatic. This response expresses Peter's love, but his is a defective love. It lacks humility, which is one of the essential attributes of discipleship according to this Gospel. Indeed, humility is the very thing illustrated in Jesus' present action. In Peter's response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the cross will atone and bring healing. Peter is working from a worldly point of view, and not for the first time. Jesus realizes this act is scandalous and mystifying, given their current ignorance: You do not realize now what I am doing, but later (literally, "after these things") you will understand. On one level, Jesus' act is an example of humility, and they are expected to grasp this point. But as with most of what Jesus has said and done, they will fully understand this event only after the cross and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, who will lead them into all truth.

In response to Peter's rejection Jesus says cryptically, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. The word for part (meros) can be used of one's share in an inheritance, though other words are more commonly used for this idea (meris, kleros and kleronomia). If Peter is to have a share with Jesus in his community and the eternal life that comes through faith in him, then he must be washed by Jesus. Since this is Peter's greatest desire he responds, Then, Lord, . . . not just my feet but my hands and my head as well! Again we see his love, but again there is still a strong element of self. He is not simply receiving with humility what the Lord is saying and doing. Peter at this point is an example of religious enthusiasm that is really a manifestation of the unregenerate self rather than of genuine discipleship. He has not discovered the depths of his own brokenness and selfishness and thus does not have a solid foundation in reality to build on. His denial of Jesus, soon to be predicted by Jesus, will tear down his pride and clear the way for the genuine humility that is necessary for any real spiritual life.”

Richard Foster:
"Consider the perspective of a slave. A slave sees all of life from the viewpoint of slavery. He does not see himself as possessing the same rights as free men and women. Please understand me, when this slavery is involuntary it is cruel and dehumanizing. When the slavery is freely chosen, however, everything is changed. Voluntary servitude is a great joy.  . . Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered. If we stoutly refuse to give in to this lust of the flesh, we crucify it. Every time we crucify the flesh, we crucify pride and arrogance. . . Right here we must see the difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When we chose to serve, we are still in charge. We decide whom we will serve and when we will serve. And if we are in charge, we will worry a great deal about anyone stepping on us, that is, taking charge over us. But when we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. There is great freedom in this. If we voluntarily choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated. When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable."


The next comment deals with the idea that “the world owes me a livin”. The idea that gifted people do not deserve to be spared the pains of life, that everybody else is subjected to, has always been a tough nut for me.


Pulpit Commentary
“The servant is not greater than his lord. In John 13:16 the idea was used to enforce the spirit of humility and mutual service; it applies also here, but in another sense. The disciples are not to expect better treatment from the world than their Lord met with. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. The "if" is remarkably explicit; there is no doubt about it in Christ's case, and the supposition is one of definite and acknowledged fact, and the conditional sentence most positively assures them of antagonism and persecution. It is probable, though not certainly known, that these disciples all endured a living martyrdom, if not a cruel death in his cause.”

As I have mentioned before, Christians may don the powerful armor of God, which provides miraculous spiritual protection against many levels of negative vibration; but that point is distinct from the idea that virtue buys us any kind of guarantee or bulletproof protection from carnal assaults. Just because we serve does not mean that we do not fall victim to the evils of the world.


The following excerpt is especially meaningful to me—as one who has always sought a special niche in the temple of fame, and who has thought himself ill-used and slighted because he has been denied this niche, it is some comfort to read that there must have been many men, operating behind the scenes, who did great work but who, nevertheless never came before the public eye. It is hard to avoid the “sour grapes” component of this syndrome, but it definitely has its basis in scripture.




Let Us Reason Ministries

/Men with No Name or Reputation on Earth

Not all the great saints in history are well known. In fact, the ones who will get the most rewards are probably going to be those we never heard of. There are numerous ways to make one famous. Hollywood knows that it only takes some backing and money and one can have a TV series in which they are advertised to the public. The longer they are around the more familiar people become with them. The Religious sector has borrowed strategies from the world and applied it to the church.


There is a difference between God raising one up to do ministry, and those who have done their own self- promotion. The people who have the most air-time on Television are usually (not always) those who are making merchandise of their viewers. This does not mean that godly men cannot be famous but it is more often the exception to the rule. In our day we look for stars, those who have fame, importance and influence. But this is not what the Bible teaches about those who are great in God’s eyes. Jesus spoke of the hypocrites that prayed to be seen. 
"For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward”. You can substitute anything else besides pray, whether it’s their good works, giving, spiritual gifts… “They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues”. They lived to be noticed and seen as more important than others. Speaking of the Pharisee’s John 12:43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” 

Our intent should be as the psalmist Ps 67:1-2 “God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us. Selah That Your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations”. Instead we see men’s names replacing Christ’s name, and their reputation presented to the people as business leaders, healers and miracle workers (though they may give secondary honor to Jesus). We always need to be careful of the traps of being sought after and exalted. Once pride sets in it becomes harder to return to walking in humility and letting God use you as He once may have. 

Jesus said, "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

When people want to be noticed for what they do, they do it in the public’s eye. They have strategies to make the most out of the event. Even if it is good deed what they do builds up their pride and importance. Jesus instructed, "But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, "that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly”(Matt 6:3-4). Many will already have their reward by being noticed and have no treasure in heaven. 

The real servants are those who work without the cameras on them, without the news reporting their good deeds, without touring to give a personal testimony that will promote themselves or make them important. The real servant has an attitude of not trying to be found in the spotlight while they do God’s work. A real servant is busy doing God’s work whether he is noticed or unnoticed. He doesn’t care if anyone watches him. His reward will be later.”

It has been seen that it was narcissistic pride that ejected Satan from heaven—it is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that its opposite, humility, is the ticket back into Heaven—not only the Heaven of the hereafter, but the Heaven of here and now.

Saint Augustine:

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”

Saint Vincent de Paul:
“The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.”

The topic of this service inevitably invokes the subject of taking credit--ownership—whose life is it anyway? One consequence of pride is the taking of credit for accomplishments on which we have no claim. The whole complex of illusions surrounding status, fame, and immortality is saturated with Satan’s deceptive maya. The idea that Beethoven’s music is immortal, adopts an exceedingly naïve view of the vast scope of human history. Rudolf Steiner would point to the new age conceptual entity called the “Akashic Record”; this record is supposed to contain the sum total of every idea, or expression, or image that ever existed or will exist. I am not willing to flatly deny or affirm the reality of such a thing, but real or not real, it is a record that is not available to us in our current dimension. Therefore, even the most profound and deeply resonant expressions of our time are doomed ultimately to reverberate into silence; therefore, people who lust after immortal earthly reputation and respect, are yearning for something that is, in the long run, just as perishable as a tabloid article on Julia Roberts’ eye makeup. Those of us who altruistically sought, and failed, to contribute to the deathless sum of human knowledge, must simply accept the possibility that there has been enough said, or that what was being said was destined to fall on deaf ears.

I have repeated this quote from The Screwtape Letters several times:
"He would rather the man thought himself a great architect or a great poet and then forgot about it, than that he should spend much time and pains trying to think himself a bad one. Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy's side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all, since he can very well go on improving them to the best of his ability without deciding on his own precise niche in the temple of Fame."
I recently ran across another statement on the same subject in Bernard de Clairvaux’s book, On Loving God:

“We must know, then, what we are, and that it is not of ourselves that we are what we are. Unless we know this thoroughly, either we shall not glory at all, or our glorying will be vain. Finally, it is written, ‘If thou know not, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock’ (Cant. 1.8). And this is right. For man, being in honor, if he know not his own honor, may fitly be compared, because of such ignorance, to the beasts that perish. Not knowing himself as the creature that is distinguished from the irrational brutes by the possession of reason, he commences to be confounded with them because, ignorant of his own true glory which is within, he is led captive by his curiosity, and concerns himself with external, sensual things. So he is made to resemble the lower orders by not knowing that he has been more highly endowed than they.

We must be on our guard against this ignorance. We must not rank ourselves too low; and with still greater care we must see that we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, as happens when we foolishly impute to ourselves whatever good may be in us. But far more than either of these kinds of ignorance, we must hate and shun that presumption which would lead us to glory in goods not our own, knowing that they are not of ourselves but of God, and yet not fearing to rob God of the honor due unto Him. For mere ignorance, as in the first instance, does not glory at all; and mere wisdom, as in the second, while it has a kind of glory, yet does not glory in the Lord. In the third evil case, however, man sins not in ignorance but deliberately, usurping the glory which belongs to God. And this arrogance is a more grievous and deadly fault than the ignorance of the second, since it contemns God, while the other knows Him not. Ignorance is brutal, arrogance is devilish. Pride only, the chief of all iniquities, can make us treat gifts as if they were rightful attributes of our nature, and, while receiving benefits, rob our Benefactor of His due glory.”

Thus, our moral imaginations ought not to be attending to the value of our acts of service in anything like the terms of a “social currency”; our attention must be focused on the efficient performance of the tasks assigned to us by God before the world began. In the larger scheme of things, it is the SPIRITUAL value of our activities—the mythic or archetypal resonance of our acts, not their temporal effect-- that is of any importance whatever.

I always thought that people who claimed to “live a life of service” were kind of pretentious, do-gooder types, who relished the feeling of being morally superior; but, in recent years, I have changed my mind. I’m sure the list of self-righteous do-gooders is long, indeed, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some people who have responded to the call of service as open-hearted Sons of God--who have seen that we are all one, and that any service performed for the good of others is a service performed for God, which is a service performed for themselves.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for your perfect example. We fail every day, in our selfishness, to heed your example perfectly, and we thank you every day for every day giving us another chance to do better. Let us continue in our attempts to emulate your magnificent giving, so that we may one day receive all. Amen.



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