Mutual, I’m sure

Everyone wants a label. A title. We want to be called by a name that defines us. That announces us. That lets everyone else know who and what we are. If someone doesn’t have a label, we immediately want to give them one. A singer. A banker. A president. A streetwalker. An addict. A hero. Once given, we are usually disinclined to offer another label unless that person makes a grievous error or heroic effort. Then the original label is nearly impossible to get back.

While being known for one big thing is not an issue, carrying multiple labels tends to be. It’s confusing. Are you one thing or are you the other? Honestly, we can all be, and should all be, more than just one thing.

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. 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.

John 13:14-17 (NIV)

Through his teaching, Jesus gave his disciples all sorts of contradictory labels. Be a teacher, but be a student. Be bold, but be humble. Be a leader, but be a servant. Matthew Henry said that duties are mutual; we must both accept help from our brethren, and afford help to our brethren. 

By disrobing, getting down on his knees, and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus displayed for all of us the example that a man can be both a leader and a servant. His entire ministry, he was leading people to serve. These things are not exclusive, but as Matthew Henry stated, mutually inclusive. All of these things that may seem contradictory are in reality complimentary.

One cannot teach without a willingness to learn. One cannot be bold without truly knowing what it is to be humble. One cannot lead unless they understand how to follow.

We can call Jesus Lord, and that wouldn’t be wrong. Neither would it be incorrect to call him Savior or Son of God. But we cannot stop there. Jesus doesn’t fit under just one label, but many. He is also a servant to mankind. He is a follower of his Father. And because Jesus did, so that we may follow his example, so should we be called by many things, and possibly the greatest of which being servants.

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

Matthew 20:26 (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 7-9, John 13:1-17

Don’t shoot the messenger

We all have people in our lives that we’d rather not have in our lives. An annoying coworker. A nosy neighbour. That weird uncle that only shows up at holidays. We avoid these people at all costs and even begrudge them when something good happens in their lives. We hold on to our dislike—hate even—like a security blanket. So long as that person keeps doing the things we dislike, we can grip our sense of superiority over them.

Jonah experienced a similar feeling when God brought him to a certain city in a rather roundabout way. Jonah finally made it to the city of Nineveh by way of fish. It probably wasn’t the most popular mode of transportation in his day, but it did the trick. Jonah was finally where God told him to be—surrounded by people he didn’t like. Not only did he have to be there, he had to share a certain message.

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Jonah 3:4 (NLT)

Still believing himself to be above the people in the city, Jonah shared his message with a great sense of satisfaction and then found a prime spot to watch the promised destruction. Yet that destruction would never come. Because, in spite of his hatred for the people of Nineveh, they had received and embraced his message.

The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow.

Jonah 3:5 (NLT)

I doubt this was the response Jonah was expecting. In a city he hated, Jonah was forced to watch as his reluctant message was acted upon. Repentance ran rampant.

What all the saints make a matter of joy and praise, Jonah makes the subject of reflection upon God; as if showing mercy were an imperfection of the Divine nature, which is the greatest glory of it.

Matthew Henry

The account of Jonah is not merely a story of delayed obedience. It is a story of attitude, of mercy, of grace. And it is an account that show us that, even if our attitudes do not reflect our message, God can still work in the hearts of even the greatest sinners. But, unlike Jonah, when our message is received, our hearts should rejoice along with those who have received the gift of grace.

It is the neighbour we like the least that needs the most love. Hesitation on our part to share the Gospel is like shooting the messenger before he even has a chance to tell his story. We do ourselves and our neighbour a disservice by holding on to our hatred and dislike. We want to show our superiority while God wants to show His grace.

Immediate obedience to God’s instruction is far easier on our egos than waiting until the last possible moment.  Let us share in the glory of God’s grace rather than hoarding our own personal comfort.

Daily Bible reading: Jonah 1-4, Revelation 9