“Do you understand what I have done for you?”
The humility of Jesus is best interpreted by Jesus himself. We resist the temptation to read into his action motives of our own. Jesus stripped down to wash the disciples’ feet but we cannot strip the text of its theological meaning. He removed his outer clothes, but we must not remove the inner meaning of his actions. Well-intentioned interpreters congratulate Jesus for being “the best manager and developer of human resources the world has ever seen.” They like what they see on the surface. They leverage the life of Jesus to make a practical point that has nothing to do with the atonement or the practice of discipleship.
Laurie Beth Jones in Jesus, CEO, presents Jesus as a leader who knew how to manage people. She claims that when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he set an example for his staff. He was creating a top-down corporate culture that showed the value of people. He showed them he cared. He believed in his team and he modeled success. When Laurie Beth Jones claims Jesus is the epitome of the Omega management style, she conjures up images of Fortune 500 executives who are winsome and savvy. She ignores the meaning of the cross.
Cynics see humility as a clever ploy to get their way, just another strategy for manipulating people, a weapon in the Machiavellian arsenal of domination. In House of Cards, Kevin Spacey plays Francis Underwood a ruthless Congressman who stops at nothing to conquer anything and everyone. In a scene back in his home district, Congressman Underwood fakes humble contrition before parents grieving the loss of their daughter. Underwood turns to the camera and says, “What you have to understand about my people is that they are a noble people. Humility is their form of pride. It is their strength. It is their weakness. And if you humble yourself before them they will do anything you ask.” Humility, like virtue can be perverted and used for evil purposes.
More than five hundred years ago Thomas à Kempis wrote The Imitation of Christ. His spiritual direction stressed the rigors of discipleship, the deceptiveness of self, and the lusts of the world. He challenged believers to cultivate an in-depth personal awareness of Christ. “Our chief pursuit,” wrote Kempis, “is to meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ.” Whoever “would fully and feelingly understand the words of Christ must endeavor to conform his whole life to Him.”
Kempis goes a long way in distinguishing between spiritual “knock offs” and the true imitation of Christ. The Jesus model is best observed in humble saints who take up their cross daily even though it is out of sync with the success strategy of the world. Jesus warned, “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).
Kempis understood the ubiquitous presence and providence of the cross. Foot-washing is the tangible expression of cross-bearing. And if daily cross-bearing begins with foot-washing it includes everything. Foot-washing is the metaphor for down-to-earth practical ministry. Jesus on bended knee in the upper room embodies the continuum of the cross, stretching from foot-washing to Calvary. Disciples go with Jesus’ interpretation. This is the truth echoed in Kempis’ devotional classic:
“The cross, therefore, is always ready; it awaits you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself with you and shall always find yourself. Turn where you will—above, below, without, or within—you will find a cross in everything, and everywhere you must have patience if you would have peace within and merit an eternal crown.”
Upper Room Reflection
Have you ever been inclined to think that deep discipleship belongs to others and not to yourself?
Why is it wrong to make Jesus out to be the model businessman?
How can humility be turned into a tool of the devil?
What does Kempis mean when he says that you can find a cross everywhere?
 Laurie Beth Jones, Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom For Visionary Leadership (New York: Hyperion, 1995). Jones argues that Jesus’ approach to leadership is a cross between the Alpha management style, based on the masculine, authoritative use of power, and the Beta management style, based on the feminine, cooperative use of power. The Omega management style “incorporates and enhances them both.” xiii.
 Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans. C. Bigg (London: Methuen, 1898), bk. 1, ch. 1, 45.
 Thomas a Kempis, Bk II:12. “The royal road of the holy cross”