The way that we change the world is not through power but by washing feet.
– Greg Boyd
Greg Boyd was the first plenary session speaker at the Missio Alliance conference that I’ve mentioned before. He said a lot of great things that stuck with me for various reasons, but nothing that he said stuck with me as much as the quote above.
The way that we change the world is not through power, but by washing feet.
I like this for a number of reasons.
First, the Obvious Reason:
We talk a lot on DunkerPunks.com and in the Church of the Brethren about peace and nonviolence. We study the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings and accounts of Jesus, and it’s clear to us that Jesus preached and practiced nonviolence, so we must do the same. Building peace and practicing nonviolence fit into the larger picture of following Jesus.
Second, I Love the Humility of It:
There’s something about humility and the practice of mutual submission that is incredible at diffusing power. Something to remember about Jesus: yes, he came from humble beginnings, but as an adult he was a rabbi. As far as Jewish society goes, this is about as good as you can get. To be a rabbi meant you were the best of the best of the best. You were the smartest of the smartest of the smart. And if you were a good, inspiring rabbi (like Jesus), you could develop a large and loyal following. As a rabbi, Jesus could have been incredibly powerful.
Also, keep in mind what the people of Jesus time were looking for when it came to a Messiah: They imagined a warrior king, a politically powerful revolutionary, someone mighty. And they got Jesus.
Jesus had a way of turning power on it’s head. He was in every position to be incredibly powerful. He could have led a violent revolution against the Roman Empire. He could have incited his followers to pick up weapons and attack. They would have done it. Peter did do it. He attacked a Roman soldier, cutting off his ear, and what did Jesus do? He put the ear back on the soldier’s head.
Jesus could have used his power, but instead he girded himself and washed his disciple’s feet. Including the feet of those who would betray him and reject him. I love the humility of it.
Third, I Love the Smallness of It:
I realize that Boyd was speaking metaphorically, but let’s think literally for a second.
A question for those of you who have ever washed feet before: How many people’s feet can you wash at once?
The answer is obvious: one. Often, people frame nonviolence as simply not being violent. That’s not the case. That’s not was Jesus preached. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”
This is so eloquent and so packed that you can expand it in a number of directions to demonstrate how nonviolence is active. I’m sure I will in the future, but for now I’ll just expand in one direction.
All three of the actions Jesus describes are interactions between two people. The formula is the same for each: a person in power abuses a person with less power. The person with less power submits to the abuse nonviolently, and then responds not with violence or with inaction, but by subverting the power by actively submitting even further. No longer does the abuser feel powerful, but cruel. No longer does the less powerful person appear inferior, but gracious and human. No longer does the power dynamic seem righteous, but unjust.
And it all happens on the tiny plane between two people. When we practice nonviolence, we get caught up in imagining that we’ll be nonviolent one day, and the world will be saved the next day. It doesn’t work that way. The kingdom of heaven doesn’t expand from the top down, reaching from heaven and enveloping the whole world. It spreads from the bottom out, like a mustard plant.
Every time you look someone in the eye and show them the love of Christ, you are planting the mustard seeds of the Kingdom.
Every time you wash someone’s feet, you are showing them what it means to worship a God of love.
And that’s how we change the world. One smelly foot at a time.
Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.