I want to give a shout out to all of the men who have been reading these posts, specifically the male pastors who have offered words of praise and encouragement for my work on this blog. This one’s for you – because I think if we are to heal as a society, we need to minister to men as well as women.
Ok, guys, imagine this: You get to walk the earth with Jesus. Better yet, you get to be one of the twelve disciples. You’ve followed Jesus around for three years, seeing him do all kinds of amazing things. Earlier, you marched with him through the streets of Jerusalem while all of Israel had a party. And now you’re settling down to celebrate a big feast day together.
The end of the meal has come. You’re full of good food and even better conversation. Then Jesus stands up and begins to disrobe. Yes, you read that right. He’s getting naked. And now he’s bending down to take off your shoe. Naked. He says he’s going to wash your feet. Naked.
Do you let him?
It’s an interesting question to pose to men in this Western culture. I can just hear half a dozen baritones screaming “Hell, no!” and picture several plaid shirts bolting for the door. But this was the reality for Christ’s disciples. While we can’t be 100% certain that Jesus took it all off, it’s very likely that he did. (And that towel probably wasn’t around his waist, either.) It was an act of great intimacy executed for great purpose: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8).
In other words, if we want to have a powerful, redemptive, Spirit-filled life in Christ, we have to allow him to have some intimacy with us.
Unfortunately, American culture has a problem with intimacy. It’s become sexualized, to the point where even emotional and spiritual intimacy is viewed as a trespass against Westernized masculinity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard young men express a strong desire to grow deeper in their faith, then wonder in the same breath what it really means to be “a man of God” – as if the requirements for Christian men are somehow different than they are for everyone else. There’s a reason for that. Westernized masculinity is at complete odds with achieving communion with Christ. And some ministers have tried very, very hard to reconcile the two. They’ve cherry-picked verses out of Joshua, Judges and the Psalms to make the “godly man” into a stone-fisted warrior. They’ve told men how to control their wives and dominate their children, and have coached them to stand tall and proud during worship because weeping and kneeling are somehow feminine and undignified. The result is a bunch of men who look well-collected around the altar, but are inwardly starved for the Savior’s embrace.
I’m going to say something potentially controversial again: You’ll never find the Spirit through masculinity. Jesus said that all who fall on him, the cornerstone, will be broken (Matthew 21:44; Luke 20:18). Falling is an act of surrender. Brokenness is the zenith of humility and submission. Both are required for taking the Spirit into one’s innermost being. Neither are permitted in American masculinity.
I think this is why men get so confused in the church. They’re told to carry themselves like kings, because everyone is supposed to be submitting to them. Except for Christ. Men are to submit to Christ. But not like a woman submits to Christ, with all that emotional weeping and stuff; that’s improper. Just be like Jesus; he was a real man. Even though he wept (oops). And when he got naked in front of his disciples. Well, you know, that was Jesus. We shouldn’t do everything he did. Tell you what, in the name of preserving masculinity, we’ll make this a two-party system: Men will represent God’s authority, and women will represent Christ’s humility.
And then we wonder why men say they struggle to experience God or have little desire to worship. Could it be that the church’s attempts to preserve a bizarre cultural concept of masculinity is actually robbing men of a divine encounter with their Savior?
Men, I urge you as a loving sister in Christ, please examine our culture’s definition of masculinity in light of the scriptures. Not just the few cherry-picked scriptures quoted by conservative ministers, but ALL the scriptures. Jesus craves intimacy with you. Not weird, effeminate, sexual intimacy, but transformative, vibrant, soul-breathing intimacy. He wants to be one with you in spirit. To get there requires some brokenness. Brokenness isn’t listed as a trait on any man card. It isn’t dignified, popular, sexy, or self-composed. But it is a place of strength and power. HIS strength and power.
So there’s Jesus. Naked. With a bowl and a towel, ready to wash your feet. Ready to commune with you. Do you let him? Or do you seek comfort at the altar of masculinity?
Hi April. I vote we bolt for the door. I am a member of a liberal United Methodist Church and our pastor got into this foot washing thing (which is almost unheard of in my denomination). I wanted to bolt for the door then too. Fortunately, he did not offer to take of his clothes.
Being an anthropologist, I suspect we are looking at the differences in two different human cultures with a vast displacement in time. I would suspect that footwashing in the time of Jesus had none of the macho connotations that American culture has today. It was probably a generally accepted cultural practice. Fortunately, the apostles later decided that we did not have to become Jews first and then convert to Christianity. They recognized that we gentiles had our on cultures and that we would feel a need to keep most of that cultural upbringing and graft Jesus into it just as we were grafted into him.
However, with that said. I nonetheless understand your point about Jesus, cowboys, and intimacy and agree with it. It might help for us cowboys and cowgirls to remember that Jesus is a spirit rather than a sex. He is a resident of another world where there is no gender or sex because there is no need to sexually reproduce. It might be more appropriate to ask the question:
“How does a mortal person with a spirit become intimate with a being that is pure spirit?”
Thanks for the comment. I agree that any intimacy we have with Christ is going to be spiritual rather than physical. My overall point was that our American uneasiness with physical intimacy has filtered down into our spiritual and emotional lives. Obviously, Jesus isn’t going to appear in the unclothed flesh and offer to give us sponge baths. But he will approach us in the spirit and request access to the hidden places of our hearts. He’ll ask us to fully rely on him for strength as he begins a difficult work of transformation. That kind of intimacy and reliance is at odds with our American individualism, which claims we don’t really need anyone else.
But even though the process of letting him in is spiritual, in some ways it’s just as if he were physically naked with us. Because when you experience the brokenness that comes from touching his holiness, people look at you the same way.