There’s a very ancient way of reflecting on a passage from Scripture that is called Lectio Divina or sacred reading. You read the passage slowly, until you come to a word or phrase that sticks in your mind or prods your imagination and says, ‘Stop, stay with me for a while’.
Well, I was reading Luke chapter 12 and I got as far as verse 37. You might remember it, a sentence about the master, arriving home way past his servants’ normal bedtimes, coming in and being so pleased to see that they were expecting him that that he put on an apron and served them all a late night supper.
Now there are probably deep theological insights to be gained from a prayerful and studious reading of the whole of this passage from Luke’s Gospel, but the apron got me. Here’s a macho Jewish man of means putting on an apron and proceeding to wait on his servants.
The image of the apron recalled another passage, the one that tells of Jesus removing his outer garment, wrapping a towel around his waist and proceeding to wash the feet of all gathered around the Passover table. The master is also the servant.
And I wonder what happened to that beautiful model of service in the years between then and now. It seems that gradually Jesus’ action just lingered as words on a page, resurrected symbolically on Holy Thursday every year. Meanwhile the titles, housing, clothing and lifestyle of worldly leaders became the norm for Church leaders.
I once heard a priest suggest that parents changing a baby’s nappy a dozen times in a day might be seen as a twenty first century washing of the feet, or put another way, the master waiting on the one assumed to be inferior.
So many ordinary women and men, wrap symbolic aprons or towels around their middle and serve others in the name and spirit of Jesus – a carer massaging skin cream into the stiff fingers and dry skin of an elderly patient, a hairdresser volunteering time and skill to shampoo and blow-dry the thin hair of a dozen nursing home residents, Day after day, Polish men and women preparing thousands of meals for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian army.
We call our Church leadership the hierarchy; there’s a top and a bottom and lots of stages in between. The trouble with this model is that we have used it to opt out of our Baptismal call to be both foot washer and the one whose feet are washed.
Sometimes I think it’s our own fault that our Church hierarchy has by and large tumbled off its collective pedestals. After all, we put them there when we didn’t insist and expect that they be accountable to the communities they served. There are times when we excuse our clergy instead of reminding them of our expectations that they journey side by side with us.
It saddens and angers me when I hear about Church communities who have been sidelined by a priest leader who has no respect for the needs and gifts of the people he serves. Then I want to know why we let this happen. What if instead of letting our priests and bishops behave like (some) big businesses, we let them know that we need them to respect us as we respect them.
We are the Church. What if we meant it?