Posted by: rogermitchell | February 13, 2011

The heart of the gospel

My last post on praying into Egypt provoked a lot of interest. In it I spoke of the kind of democracy that I believe Christ died for. Nobody has queried the idea that Jesus died to bring about “a system of government by the whole population” which is how my Oxford Complete Wordfinder defines democracy. Nevertheless it’s a big claim, and certainly not one that has generally been used to explain the gospel. So in these next few posts I will develop this practical idea by looking at the compelling story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, in John 13, which follows the  demonstration in the temple and the three contentions [see the previous posts].

In the light of John’s story, I’m not keen on the use of the word system, and would prefer “a relationship of government.” For as the events described show, it is relationship that forms the heart of the government of God, and one which upends the normal understanding of rule and authority, or what is often referred to as sovereignty.  By using the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ to describe this sovereignty, as the other gospels particularly emphasise, the gospel appears as the amazing news that God is not sovereign at all in the way that sovereignty has generally been understood in the world or in the church.

Come with me into the first stage of the story. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that his hour had come that he would 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, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded” (Jn 13:1-5).

We are immediately drawn into the intimacy of the supper table and an intensely relational interplay between Rome’s demonic sovereignty on the one hand, consuming the life of Judas, Jesus’ friend and disciple, and Jesus’ conscious confrontation of imperial power on the other, with the contrary spirit of transcendent love in the intimate act of footwashing. The act is set among words of transition – ‘before’, ‘his hour’, ‘depart’, ‘come forth’, ‘going back’ – that position Jesus in movement from God to God, through our imperial Western time, which is still located in the slipstream of Rome’s empire, into God’s time and way of government. The reader is pulled into this trajectory that Jesus is described as moving within as he “got up from supper, and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself.” In identifying with the disciples and especially Peter, the reader is confronted as to their own readiness for two things. The first is whether she or he is willing for the transcendent Jesus, in God’s here and now, to make himself intimately present and confront all our pretensions to personal sovereignty or autonomy. Or to put it another way, whether we will still be determined to hold onto our personal lordship, when the good news is that right now, God isn’t holding on to his. Are we ready for this?

The second is whether we are prepared to live this way in relation to our fellow human beings, giving what power we have, in intimate acts of love, to bless and serve humankind.  More of this, and its political implications in the next posts.



  1. In one of the first comments that I ever made on your site I was asking about Gods system/circle of control in which I came to the conclusion that His was what we call reality and is therefore the only system of control that is infinite.

    I understood that God is committed to our liberty in a profound way. After reading “Blood up to your ankles” by Peter Wilkes I came to the conclusion that God wants us to be His executives.

    We have His Spirit and nature, but also complete freedom to be expressions of His love, to create, beautify (subdue the Earth and have dominion over it) and not try to subdue and have dominion over each other.

    Therefore we need to be committed to His Spirit and walking in His love and will have the tools and liberty so that in Christ we are able to speak to the storm.

    As His children, we are to be little versions of Him, we are to imitate Him and follow His example. But I don’t think that it’s in Gods vision at all that He micro manages us. We are to be trustworthy executives.

  2. Yes !
    I we have freedom but I see it is work on ourselves than give freedom to others!
    Everything comes from the heart. The acts must arise from a changed heart, a heart circumcised. Otherwise they are religious acts and without the Spirit. The more I see how my heart works at the relational level (bad!) the more than I can change. I do not know if I can reach many people but I do at my level and at our group home where we consciously seek to be submitted to each other.

  3. Today, Wendell Berry, long-time Christian writer/activist/farmer in the US is camped out in the state government offices of Kentucky to protest mountaintop removal. At age 76. Go Wendell. Its great to see the grandfathers like Wendell and John Hanson (NASA scientist) lead the way against destruction of the earth. Here is the article, watch the video – his statements are worth listening to.

    his quote at the beginning from Jeremiah is chilling. His further discussion of how we respond to corrupt governments is about nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. Seems he has been reading your blog Roger.


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