Have you ever been used? Have you ever been treated as a means to an end? Have you ever been taken advantage of? It happens all the time. In order to gain an advantage there are people who will look you straight in the eye, tell you what they want you to hear, and then take what they want at your expense. Being used is painful.
Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Have you ever used someone? Have you ever treated another person as a means to an end? Have you ever taken advantage of someone? Ummm . . . ouch. It happens all the time. In order to gain an advantage we . . . yes, we . . . will look a person straight in the eye, tell them what we want them to hear, and then take what we want at their expense. Using people like this hurts them.
We live in a culture of objectification. People are often no more important to us than a tool. Too often people are little more than a utility. We are a culture asking, “What’s in it for me?” and “What can I get out of this?” In a sense, we have cheapened the value of human life and turned it into a commodity. When this happens life becomes a series of exchanges rather than rich and meaningful relationships.
This does not simply cause trivial damage. This shift strikes at the core of our existence as those who are created in the image of God. Objectification determines value based on what we have to offer rather than from our being. It alienates us from one another and from the One who gave us life.
In a culture of objectification, how do we recover what we have lost? Well, we need new eyes to see and new ears to hear.
Jesus knew what it was like to be used. People did it to Jesus all the time. They wanted healing, food, signs, power, honor, and money. They saw Jesus as a means to that end over and over and over. And Jesus knew it. I don’t mean that Jesus suspected it. Jesus knew it. (See John 13:11 where John points out that Jesus knew He had washed the feet of the one who would betray Him.) He wasn’t deceived or misled or confused or surprised about being used as a means to an end..
So, how did Jesus confront a culture of objectification when He was seen as an object to be used?
Jesus took a towel, a washbasin, and some water and got down on His knees and washed feet. After some resistance and some foot washing Jesus asked the disciples a question, “Do you know what I have done to you?” And then Jesus taught them, “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” (John 13:12-15)
With a simple act of foot washing Jesus revolutionizes what it means to connect with people. With a little water and a towel Jesus changes the disciples identity from objects to be used to people to be served. In this act of humble service Jesus isn’t asking, “What’s in it for me?” or “What can I get out of this?” But rather, He is re-establishing what it means to be human, created in the image of God. He is restoring value and re-opening our eyes and ears to see and hear everyone around us as a person to be treated with dignity, respect, and love. And He calls us to look for ways to serve rather than to be served.
How do the people you engage from day to day look to you? Do they look like a means to an end? Do they look like a way for you to get what you want? Do they function like a utility? Or are they the dearly loved, created and redeemable, children of God? To change your thinking you will need to change your behavior. Perhaps it’s time to grab a towel, a washbasin, and some water and restore the value of human life and relationships by humbly pouring out your life for the sake of others. ~ Sam