bishop of your souls...."
-1 Peter 2:21,25
No one wants a bishop. I don’t. I suspect you don’t either.
Ten years ago, Mark and Steve visited Good Shepherd during interviews to select our first bishop. Mark shared with parish representatives that he served in a parish conveniently located 70 miles distant from the bishop...and he preferred it that way! Even our first bishop didn’t want to be too close to his bishop. We want an “over looker,” not an overseer.
It’s a warm evening, festive singing and conversation rings through the empty streets as families gather to celebrate the Passover. Jesus and his disciples gather in a rented room. All’s going well. Suddenly, a hush falls on the gathered. Jesus “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13.4-5) Read that again, slowly. It’s charged with unexpected drama... it takes time for Jesus to do what He does... He stands where He’s in clear view... moments pass... long enough to get everyone’s undivided attention. Peter is watching intently, the tension in his soul and body rising. Then Jesus “came to Simon Peter... You shall never wash my feet!” (13.6-8)
Could it be that Peter’s assertion that Jesus is “bishop of our souls” is rooted in this climactic encounter with the Lord. On their way to Jerusalem the disciples were vying for positions of pride and power next to Jesus, discussing among themselves who was greatest. Jesus looks into Peter’s determined eyes: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” (13.8) Peter repents, allows Jesus to wash his soiled and fatigued feet.
Consider two aspects of this encounter with me. First, it happens as the disciples worship. In fact, they have very little concern for one another as they worship it would seem. They fail to provide for the washing of one another’s feet. They all recline at table waiting to be served. Jesus takes on the task, prayerfully kneels behind each one. Jesus impresses Peter and the gathered that the greatest among them is the one who serves the others. All the others. The willing, the unwilling, the betrayer and the denier. Discerning the man chosen by Jesus to serve as our next bishop must take place in the context of worship, prayer, and genuine concern for each and all of us. Our worship, prayer and discussion needs to focus on what the Lord Jesus wants to do among us through this man, as well as what He wants to do in us to accomplish His purpose. Jesus later reminds them and us: “Without Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15.5)
Second, Jesus approaches each disciple individually. Each must respond humbly and allow the Lord to see the most unattractive aspects of their souls and soles. And the consequence of failing to allow the Lord this transparent and vulnerable access is grave: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Humility. We must humbly admit our need of a bishop. We must humbly allow the bishop to access our soiled and fatigued souls and soles. Jesus works through flawed men. There are no other men through whom to work. We don’t need an able administrator, an extraordinary and dynamic preacher, a ceremonial adjunct to our parishes’ life and work. We need willingness to submit to the bishop’s service because the Lord has chosen him to serve us. He must humbly serve and we must humbly allow him to serve. Worship/prayer and humility. They really are the same thing after all, aren’t they?
Jesus’ enemies recognize Peter and John after Jesus’ Resurrection. (Acts 4.13) Note that both are described as ‘flawed:’ “uneducated and untrained men.” Their conclusion is astonishing, “they realized that they had been with Jesus.” Now, through the process, and into the episcopate of our second bishop, may this be said of us.
Praying with you and for you, Fr. Stan Burdock