No servant is greater

The room would do, Cephas thought. Four walls and a roof. What more did you need?

It was mostly just a functional space–a place where people gather for a meal, and then return to their homes afterward. In the middle of the room was a long, low table.  There were few decorations of any sort.  Cephas and his friends reclined around the table on cushions, waiting for Jesus to speak as the meal was served. 

He always spoke.

The smell of meat, fish, and bread filled the air, and Cephas began to feel his stomach growl.  He wondered if the others could hear it.  There were small dishes of dates here and there on the table.  Several small platters of soft cheese.  Cephas felt like grabbing handfuls of everything and foregoing the wooden plate in front of him. 

The Lord sat at the table’s center, and after a brief glance at them, He stood and walked to a large, beaten metal bowl that sat by the door next to a small wooden milking stool. On the chair was a folded linen towel. Next to it was a clay jug full of water. Cephas wondered what He was doing.  But then again, He had been known to go off on his own at times.  Maybe He was leaving.

He didn’t leave. 

Jesus removed his outer garments, and wrapped the towel around his waist.  Cephas noticed once again the effect that decades of working with tools, wood, and with his hands have had on His body.  He was slender, but strong, and his hands were large.  They were callused from his work, but they were gentle as he took the clay jug and poured water into the bowl.  He picked up a ladle from the ground next to the bowl, and without another word, he walked over to the man closest to the door, knelt down, and began to wash his feet.

This was the task of a servant, Cephas thought–a lowly servant at that–and he couldn’t believe the Lord was doing what He was doing. 

It wasn’t right.  He felt his temper begin to flare.

And then the Lord knelt at his feet, setting the bowl and ladle down next to him.

“Lord,” Cephas asked him, “are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus looked up at Cephas, and his eyes were brown, and kind, and full of love.  “You don’t realize now what I’m doing,” he replied. “But later you will understand.”

Cephas began to feel angry again.  Why was He doing this?  And what won’t he understand now?  He understood that Jesus should not be performing the act of the lowliest of servants–he understood that much.

“No!” he said, and it was almost a shout.  “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus looked at him for a long moment and then answered in a soft voice, “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with me.”

This made no sense.  “Then, Lord,” Cephas said, “not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well.”

Jesus answered, looking into his eyes all the while “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 

This last statement makes even less sense. Who was the Lord talking about? 

Before he could ask, Cephas felt the hands of the carpenter on his feet, removing his sandals.  Jesus put them aside, then set the bowl beneath Cephas’s feet. He scooped water up with the wooden ladle and slowly poured it over his ankles, then his feet and toes.  He gently rubbed the dirty feet, and then poured more water over them to rinse. His hands were strong, but gentle, and Cephas could see the dirt and dust slipping away, falling back into the water.  Then he slowly dried his feet with the rough towel, and Cephas felt nearly overwhelmed with emotion.  This act, this simple act of a servant humbled him–nearly crushed him–and suddenly his appetite was gone.

Jesus moved on to the next man.  When he was finished washing all their feet, he once again put on his rough clothes and returned to his place at the center of the table.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

He stopped for a moment and looked at them all. Then He looked directly at Cephas.

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

His voice was soft, but Cephas felt as if he could have heard it from outside the Sheep Gate.  He rose a little from his reclined position and looked at his feet.  He thought about what Jesus had done, and bade him to do.

He wondered if he could do it.

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Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

 1 O LORD, you have searched me                      
       and you know me.

 2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
       you perceive my thoughts from afar.      

 3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
       you are familiar with all my ways.

 4 Before a word is on my tongue
       you know it completely, O LORD.

 5 You hem me in—behind and before;
       you have laid your hand upon me.

 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
       too lofty for me to attain.

 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
       Where can I flee from your presence?

 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
       if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.

 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
       if I settle on the far side of the sea,

 10 even there your hand will guide me,
       your right hand will hold me fast.

 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
       and the light become night around me,”

 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
       the night will shine like the day,
       for darkness is as light to you.

 13 For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.

 15 My frame was not hidden from you
       when I was made in the secret place.
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.

 17 How precious to [b] me are your thoughts, O God!
       How vast is the sum of them!

 18 Were I to count them,
       they would outnumber the grains of sand.
       When I awake,
       I am still with you.

 19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
       Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!

 20 They speak of you with evil intent;
       your adversaries misuse your name.

 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
       and abhor those who rise up against you?

 22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
       I count them my enemies.

 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
       test me and know my anxious thoughts.

 24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
       and lead me in the way everlasting.

I think I read this psalm 4 or 5 times when I was in Yuma this weekend.  I hadn’t read it in a while, but it just called to me both Saturday night and Sunday morning.  I was thinking about family both times it occurred to me to look it up and read it.  I was thinking that while it may be true that my parents did not plan for my arrival, nor probably look on it with happiness, that did not mean I was not meant to be.

This is something I struggled with a great deal when I was younger, and even somewhat as an adult–that the world was a place I was not supposed to be–something I still need assurance from God about what the truth of that is. 

Am I meant to be?

Do I belong here?

My friends would tell me yes. My sisters would, too.  I mean, I know they love me.  And as far as Jenny goes, I know very well what we mean to each other. 

I know those things now.

And I know the truth of whether or not I belong.

But there was a time when I did not feel that way.  There was a time when I felt without purpose, without ties, without much at all to keep me here other than just stubbornness.

I needed to feel parented, and not just by my sisters–though they were nothing less than extraordinary in that regard, and all three of them had lots of their own stuff going on. 

And they still looked to me, and made sure I had what I needed.

They taught me a lot, but it is still not the same.

I needed to know my value as a son, and not just a brother, or friend, or any other way.

I needed to know my value as a son.

I learned much about that over time.  I learned what my true value was, and began to feel something of what it was to be valued a price above rubies.

I learned that I was loved enough that someone would die for me before I even existed. 

I learned that I was known.

And after years of resting in that love, of beginning to realize that I was not walking alone, I found this…collection of blessings.  I think the first time I ever read it was when I heard someone quote from it during a Healing Prayer session a year or two ago. 

It called to me then, too.  It offers so much assurance, so much comfort.  I think if I had to point to a single bit of scripture that offerred me the most solace in life, it would be this. 

 When I feel lost, or apart from God in some way.  When I feel alone:

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
       Where can I flee from your presence?

 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
       if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.

 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
       if I settle on the far side of the sea,

 10 even there your hand will guide me,
       your right hand will hold me fast.

If I allow myself to become lost in the world,  If I run from Heaven toward darkness, and try to hide myself from God’s face, when I begin to feel safe in the shadows:

 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
       and the light become night around me,”

 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
       the night will shine like the day,
       for darkness is as light to you.

And most of all, when I think about what it was like to feel unwanted, or unplanned, or even unloved, I can turn to this, and know the truth.  Last night was my turn to get prayer in my group, and that issue came up, in the context of a particular instance from my childhood.  This was where God took me, and it made sense then that I had been reading this all weekend.  God had been preparing me:

13 For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.

 15 My frame was not hidden from you
       when I was made in the secret place.
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.

I can see why people turn to this scripture when they’re talking about when life begins.  It begins with God.

I feel like that’s when my life really began, and when I think about the moment I felt Jesus for the first time, I can understand something of what it means when people say “born again.”

I had a dream a couple of years ago, after a particularly moving healing prayer session.  I don’t normally remember my dreams, but this one has stayed with me, and I have a feeling it will continue to. 

I was standing on dock, the very one where I had first invited Jesus to speak to me, to take my burdens, and to enter my life.  It was dark, and I could hear music playing.  I could smell meat cooking on a grill.

I could hear laughter.

I was conscious of Jesus standing beside me, even though I could not see Him.  I heard a noise, and when I looked down, I saw the man that had been myself that night kneeling on the rough wood of the dock with his head hanging down.  He was crying, and praying, and crying out to Jesus.

Did I really do this? I asked myself. 

And in the dream, Jesus answered.  “Child, this is when you were born.”

So as much as I’ve tried to hide from God over the years, as much as I’ve attempted to deny the truth of myself, as much as I have questioned my belonging on this earth, even to the extent of wondering if God really hadn’t made some cosmic “whoops” when I came to be, the truth of all those things is this, and I can’t hide from it, or deny it:

All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.

My life was given me by God, through my parents.  It has meaning.  It has purpose.  It was meant to be.

There is a plan.