Greatness in Serving
The word “authority” comes from the Latin “augere” (to grow). All authority, whether it be civil, parental, religious, or community, is intended to help people grow towards greater freedom, justice, and truth. Often, however, it is used for the honor, power, privilege, and positive self-image of those who exercise it. By stooping down to wash the disciples’ feet, Jesus calls us all to exercise authority humbly, as a service.
By washing his disciples’ feet, however, Jesus is calling them not just to be good shepherds, but to exercise authority at the heart of community in a totally new way, a way that is humanly incomprehensible and impossible. It is just as new and just as impossible as his invitation to forgive seventy-times-seven times, to love enemies and to do good to those who hate us, to give our clothes to those who ask for them, to be constantly gentle and non-violent. It is just as amazing as when he identifies himself with the poor and the outcast. “In my kingdom, the greatest must become the smallest.” Jesus asks his disciples to exercise authority like a child or a servant, where they are vulnerable and open to others. Can this authority “from below,” where, out of love, we place ourselves lower than others, still be called authority? Is it not rather love and communion? It is like the authority a child has over a mother, or a friend over a friend, or a wife over her husband and vice versa. They are there for one another, at each other’s service. They listen to one another and are never too busy to be disturbed by the other. They live inside one another. Their joy is in giving to each other and being in communion one with another.