When I arrived for my first year-long stay in Ecuador, I started in a parish participating in different ways, and at one point I was teaching the parish’s religious education teachers. My Spanish was still growing, but I realized that I didn’t need much language to teach the class.
I would introduce the theme at the beginning, and then we would break out into about 8 groups of 3 people each. Each group would have a part of theme to discuss and then come up with something to share with the class. Meanwhile, I would be able to walk around, accompanying groups and answering questions and providing whatever assistance they needed. Near the end, I would go back up to the front of the class, and one by one, each of the groups would present what they had. We would write the main points on the board, and lo and behold, by the time we were done, the whole theme was covered and shared by the class. It was clear: they already knew the stuff – it just needed to come out. They all liked that class, and the confidence of the group was through the roof.
I had taken off the “above” position, come down from my perch and stood “below” as a servant. I had sacrificed myself. That in itself was the most important teaching and the most sincere leading. What I was doing was redefining what it means to be a teacher and leader – and a priest.
During the history of the Israelites, three types of people were anointed with oil to show that they were chosen by God: prophets, kings, and priests. Jesus is going to fulfill all three roles in one. The word “Christ” means “anointed”. There are plenty of teachers and leaders and priests, but what does it look like when they are combined into one? That is what Jesus is going to do.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about what it is to be the Noble Shepherd. The Noble Shepherd loves the sheep and will lay down his life for the sheep. And then Jesus says he has the power to lay down his life for the sheep, and the power to take it up again. Later, Jesus is going to talk about this being the greatest love that exists, that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends. In the first Letter of John, the author says that this love is actually God Himself. So, what I’m saying is, This is really important! This is going to be what brings all three roles – prophet, king, priest – into one. What is this love?!
I’m going to put on the detective hat here, but make it quick. The Greek words that John uses for “lay down” and “take up again” are only used together in one other passage in all his writings. That means that this passage is going to be The Key for understanding what this love is, what Jesus’ mission is. It’s going to be The Key for what it means to be a teacher, leader, and priest together in God’s eyes.
It is when Jesus is seated with the apostles at the Last Supper and “lays aside” his garments, puts the towel around his waist, goes from person to person washing their feet, and finally returns to “take up again” his garments.
After that Jesus tells his apostles that, yes, he is a teacher and leader, and he’s just washed their feet.
That’s his priesthood.
And that’s where the love is based.
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13:13-15)
So what is my point?
Wherever you are a teacher and leader in life – at your job, in your home, volunteering, or wherever – you have a special invitation. You are invited to lay aside your “above” garments and leave your office and title and official attire behind, come down and put on your “below” garments, and go to those entrusted to you to serve them, one by one.
You’re not just a teacher and leader.
You are invited to redefine what that means.
You are invited to love.
You are called to be a priest.