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The Towell and Basin…are we sad, indignant, arrogant? Do we know Christ? Do we preserve our barns or live out the Kingdom, even if there is no ROI – but because He sent us?

In 2006 Michael Card wrote “The Basin and The Towel”.  The lyrics follow – commentary follows lyric.

In an upstairs room, a parable
is just about to come alive.
And while they bicker about who’s best,
with a painful glance, He’ll silently rise.

Their Savior Servant must show them how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.

And the call is to community,
The impoverished power that sets the soul free.
In humility, to take the vow,
that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

In any ordinary place,
on any ordinary day,
the parable can live again
when one will kneel and one will yield.

Our Saviour Servant must show us how
through the will of the water
and the tenderness of the towel.

And the space between ourselves sometimes
is more than the distance between the stars.
By the fragile bridge of the Servant’s bow
we take up the basin and the towel.



Michael drew direct inspiration from John’s account of Jesus (13.1-17).  You really should read it – slow down, spend a moment with it.  The passage reads:


John 13:1-17

English Standard Version (ESVUK)

13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it round his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped round him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.


Jesus Himself tells us to imitate Him – be like Him (in this passage and reinforced in many others, including Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, 2.5-11).  We are to have His eyes; His hands; His feet; His attitude; His posture; His nature; His character; His heart; His perspective.    We are to have the attitude of the lowest servants, the ones who were relegated to the unclean tasks, the slaves of lowest ROI value….

This is and this alone must drive how we engage everyday:  how we view the neighbor or co-worker (though they may have a life world view vastly different and even disturbing); how we view the poor (in spite of generational poverty, social dysfunctions, or poor life skills); how we view the wealthy; how we view the immigrant (legal or otherwise); how we view foreign peoples (even when they live in cultures that are very disturbing); how we view every aspect of our lives – Christ must be our driving and shaping influence.  Christ’s heart must be central to our passion, our politic, our social habits, our spending habits, our associations, our church…  Do we expect people to “Christianize” in culture before we accept them – before they believe like us, if they believe like us?  Can we love unconditionally – be they tax collector, whore, adulterer, homosexual, gangsta, generational poor and lazy, be they gluttonous or eccentric.

Let’s make it simpler to grasp what I mean, what Christ means (if I be so bold) in a normal life.  I often drive on Jefferson Davis Parkway, a long boulevard, one of the many surface arterial ways that makes New Orléans so easy to navigate quickly.  There is a busy tri-fecta where Jeff Davis intersects with Washington and Erhart Boulevards.  It’s busy, a panhandler’s dream.  With signs that say, “homeless”, “out of work”, “your help appreciated”, “God bless”, panhandlers stand and look at each driver with deep sadness in their eyes.  What is your response?  Indignation?  Pity?  Now, stop – stop the social wars and simply ask what would Jesus do?

The conversation of those who actually stop and wrestle this goes along the lines of a) I ignore them – they can get a job if they want – they make 3$30-40/hours; b) Lazy good-for-nothings… if they want to eat, let them work (quoting one verse on this subject), they’ll only buy drugs of alcohol with it; c) I let the Holy Spirit determine judgement for what they do with it; or d) I’ll give them food, but not money.   The reality is many are addicted to some substance.  Many do struggle with mental illness(es) and we’ve done away with institutions – leaving them to the streets.  BUT, what do you do with what you encounter?  WWJD?

When I see them, I’ve grown – I feel pity because they are either mentally ill, in real need, or possibly socially broken, where their self dignity, where generational poverty has raised up children – now adults who are messed up in their thinking, their world view-generation poverty is much more than economic.  It’s social, emotional, psychological.  It’s a messed up state where the truth of salvation is the ultimate need, but the needs in front of us and more immediate is healing, holistic healing.

I’ve grown to feel pity and to realize how privileged I am to have had opportunities, mentors, spiritual parents, people who help me navigate life’s toughest challenges.  I don’t get angry – I don’t always respond.  I do share food.  I have gone and gotten food for them and brought it out – I never bring them with me, not wanting to humiliate them, though some may feel quite self-conscious being seen with a poor person…something we should repent of.

So, when I think of the economic mess today affecting tens of millions who were productive citizens until the greed that created the economic collapse destroyed their lives, until corporate interests moved work overseas, until their lack of understanding real estate and interests brought foreclosure; when I think of the generational poverty and how debilitating it is…  dismissing them; criticizing them doesn’t fix it; building more prisons doesn’t fix it; electing the right government (left or right) doesn’t fix it; moving to the wealthy white suburbs doesn’t fix it…  all of this, well, it doesn’t move us forward as a people.  We are truly our brother’s (our and sister’s) keeper.  We must engage the people in need – every form of need, and walk with them towards holistic health, livelihood and the engagement with God.  Costly – yes – the rest of our lives.  BUT no other solution will work, including ignoring it because it’s too hard.

We are called to take up the basin and towel.  Period.  This is to be our attitude when washing the feet of a John, a Mary or a Judas.  When we model this consistently, humbly – when we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God there will be change.

May we stop the bickering and buying into political mumbo jumbo.   The reality is the specical interests and lobbyists own congress – that won’t change either way this election goes.  When 55% of congress members leave congress and become lobbyists; when 40-70% of a congress member’s time is fund raising, when the lobbyists (declared – remember Newt was paid $165M as a historian – not a lobbyist (yea, right)) out number congressional staff 24-1; when super packs do not have to declare and 2/3’s of all political contributions are made by 1/4 of 1% of people…  kiss democracy goodbye – BUT… BUT…BUT… what we can do is take up the basin and towel, look people in the eyes…and serve, humbly serve, humbly spend ourselves to be Christ to the broken and the powerful.  THEN, then we will see change in our world and the residency of heaven increase.




One response

  1. Amanda A.

    Thanks for the challenge, Mike. Too often I let “money won’t fix their problems” become an excuse to ignore people, especially because I feel so clueless as to how to really help–or I’m afraid of what it will cost me.

    21 July 2012 at 23:40

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