Scripture – John 13:14-15 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.
Quote – Psalm 119:2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart
Reflection – Yesterday we began our contemplation of obedience with a quote by Walter Brueggemann in which he corrected misperceptions of the biblical concept of obedience. I will start there again today. In Brueggemann's redefinition of obedience he highlights the fact that being obedient is not simply a matter of knowing and abiding by the rules and the laws. We often see Jesus addressing this very misperception in his debates about Sabbath with Pharisees. Matthew 23 contains and particularly tense confrontation between Jesus and Pharisees in which he acknowledges that they have observed the letter of the law in regards to tithing. They go to the point of measuring out spices to calculate the correct tithe. But, according to Jesus, they miss 'the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.' Notice the point. The religious leaders technically are obedient, more obedient than most others. But the deeper, broader spiritual truth of tithing, which was to teach people to be obedient to the principle of economic and social justice (that we were introduced to earlier this week), was completely missed.
Obedience that pleases God is not merely a matter of the head. It is not about knowledge or even about perfect interpretation and application of God's will as revealed by scripture. The religious leaders illustrate why. When obedience is a matter of the head, it runs the risk of being a force of isolation. It separates people, those who correctly understand and carry out obedience and those who don't. I know of a man in my home town who has never found a church that 100% of the time agreed with his interpretation of scripture, so he sits at home, without a church, without a community, isolated in his 'correct' interpretation. But you will recall that from the very beginning, as the Hebrew's wandered in the wilderness and God demanded their obedience in collecting manna and observing sabbath, the obedience was meant to create and preserve healthy community, not isolate humanity into factions competing over who is more correct.
And this leads us to the second problem with obedience as a matter of the head. Once we have divided ourselves into right and wrong, we soon divide ourselves into good and bad. And inevitably, we find ourselves and those who agree with us right and good, and all others, wrong and bad. Which is why one of Jesus' most important lessons on obedience came when we washed the disciples feet. Obedience is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of learning to recognize the suffering of others, to open our hearts with compassion to others. When Jesus washed the disciples feet he took on the role of a servant. Social boundaries were crossed in order to care for the other. This is what Obedience is meant to do. It is meant to draw us together despite division and connect us in our inevitable differences. The washing of feet reminds us that the highest form of obedience is creating a space of dignity, compassion and hospitality for any and all. It is a matter of the heart.
Prayer – Deepen our appreciation for your Word, God whose word dispels chaos and creates beauty. Empower us to make time in our busy lives to read it, listen to it, so that it shapes us. But let it not shape only our mind as important as our thinking is. Let it shape our hearts as well, with compassion and hospitality. , Shape us by your word so that we become the embodiment of your grace, mercy and justice, and so work with you in creating your kingdom here on Earth.