A few years ago, our company adopted an unofficial motto: We wash feet. It really stuck. I see it regularly on email tag-lines, hear it in meeting discussions, even see it in pictures and graphics hung around our offices. We’re in the housing business, we’re not podiatrists. We lease apartments, we don’t give pedicures. So what does this mean?
This imagery is an intentional nod to Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, a story found in three of the four Gospel accounts. And while not all of our 80+ employees are professing Christians, the concept still resonates. Leaders lead by serving people.
“And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”
This is true of all work. When the alarm goes off each morning, we have another opportunity to support ourselves and our families through serving and adding value to the lives of other people. We do this in big and small ways, in complicated and simple ways, in celebrated and anonymous ways. Good work, in a way, is all about “washing feet.”
We Love Our Neighbor by Acts of Commerce
That’s why so much of this polarized demagoguery around coronavirus and the reopening of the economy has been extremely disheartening to me. For the last 4-5 years, I’ve been trying to gain and share a better understanding of our work, the marketplace, the economy, and their role in God’s Kingdom and His mission in the world. One of the key lenses we look through is The Great Commandment – that “the economy,” in its original design, is intended to be an expression of worship to God and a way to love and serve our neighbor.
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
As Christians, our work is a daily opportunity to engage what Jesus said was most important: honoring God and loving our neighbor. This is true, not just of white-collar jobs that can easily transition to home offices with a laptop and solid internet connection, but of assembly lines, and restaurants, and day laborers in the poorest parts of the world. And so I’m troubled, not just about the economic shutdown itself (although I am deeply troubled by that), but by the gross mischaracterization of the economy and our work that it has revealed.
Friends, we don’t just honor God and love our neighbor by acts of charity, we honor God and love our neighbor by acts of commerce.
If that idea is troubling to you, you may have bought into a broken caricature of the marketplace, not the real thing. What if I told you that shutting down the economy is not eliminating one of the ways we take advantage of each other, it’s eliminating one of the key ways we love and serve and care for one another?
God is Milking Cows
Here’s the point: our work is a sacred partnership with God in Jesus Christ. When we work, we are an extension of the Creator into the lives of all those around us. Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Revolution, reignited the early Christian conviction of the Priesthood of All Believers. Sacred work is not just reserved for the pastor. He summed it up this way:
“God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.”
What, no milkmaids where you live? Let me try and modernize it for you:
- God is housing residents through the vocation of the property manager.
- God is educating children through the vocation of the teacher.
- God is feeding people through the vocation of the waiter.
- God is healing people through the vocation of the brain surgeon.
- God is raising children through the vocation of the stay at home parent.
Your everyday job is a divine working partnership in Jesus Christ.
“For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”
The Gospel redeems all things, including the work of your hands! Your day-job, great or small, is a beautiful, God-made, God-honoring, value-adding, people-loving activity. I know it may not feel like it some (or most) days. We experience our work through the brokenness of sin, but that’s not God’s original design. You’re a “priest,” and every day you have the sacred opportunity to embody the presence of Jesus in this world that so desperately needs Him.
More Than an Inconvenience
When the pandemic began to spread rapidly in mid-March, I saw an avalanche of social media posts correlating the economic shutdown with “loving our neighbor.” The #stayathome hashtag is still trending. You should serve those around you, in essence, by not working. And I get it, I really do. We are in the midst of an unprecedented healthcare crisis, and we are called to protect the most vulnerable among us. This kind of extreme response seems to have been warranted by the early and rapid spread of the virus.
But shutting down the economy is so much more than a mere inconvenience. While it may be necessary for a short time, work is part of our image-bearing responsibility in this world. This isn’t a condemnation of the quarantine, it’s simply a longing for believers in Jesus to see the God-honoring, people-serving, redemptive, Kingdom value in their everyday work. No amount of government bailouts can replace the sacred value created by our day-jobs.
I hope this complicated and unsettling moment in history once again re-ignites the priesthood of believers to engage their work with a new Gospel fervor. When we work, we love our neighbor. I pray we can all get back to washing feet really soon.