The New “War” on Terror: 9/11 and Jesus’ Approach to Enemies of the State

The New “War” on Terror: 9/11 and Jesus’ Approach to Enemies of the State September 8, 2011
"foot washing" by Cameron Watters, Flickr

This past week I was invited to speak at a youth event, which had servanthood and commissioning as its focus.  It was organized by three youth pastors that are all close friends of mine.  When they asked me to speak, they told me that I would be leading into a time of foot washing.  This spiritual act would be a symbol for the way in which we are called to serve others, and for high school students, specifically those on their campuses.

Often when I have a speaking engagement coming up (or any other project such as writing articles), an idea will often come to me when I am in the car.  On this particular drive, prior to reading the famous foot washing passage in John 13, I had this thought: I hope (and think I remember) something powerful from the story… Jesus washed all of the disciples feet, including Judas’! It was a moment where us preacher types think, “That’ll preach!”

Then I read the opening segment of the story:

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Did you catch that?  Not only did Jesus also wash Judas’ feet, but the storyteller (whom we presume is the Apostle John) frames the story with this fact in mind!  Not only so, but after a dialogue with a reluctant young Peter, the storyteller gives us another piece of inside information:

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

So, Jesus has Top Secret Intel about an enemy spy among them.  He knows that a traitor to the crown is present.  Jesus knows Judas will commit the ultimate act of treachery.  Yet, still he humbly serves him – Jesus washes Judas’ feet!

I think this piece of overlooked information reveals much about life of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  The same Jesus who calls us to love our enemies also demonstrated service to his own enemy.  And then the Lord adds these words after all the feet are washed:

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Our call to model our lives after Jesus includes washing other peoples’ feet, including our enemies.  Most likely this won’t be literal in our day as this humble act was contextual in its application for people in the First Century.  Jesus invites us to serve others, especially our enemies.  It’s the “enemies” part that makes discipleship so difficult.

9/11’s tenth anniversary happens this coming Sunday.  Throughout our nation, churches will reflect on the thousands of lives lost in that horrific act of terrorism.  That needs to be named as what it is: evil.  But, if all we do is point our finger at “those terrorists,” “those enemies,” and praise our national military for killing a whole lot of them in the “war on terror,” then we will miss the point of Jesus’ model of enemy love.

Judas, by all measures of terrorism, could be classified as the worst traitor of all time.  Not in the measure of lives he led to unjust death, but in measure to the Kingdom he committed his act of terrorism against.  Judas as a “terrorist” led the King of Kings to his horrific execution!  Our King, our President, Jesus the Messiah, died because of the actions of Judas.  If anyone could be classified as a Terrorist, certainly Judas could!  And even though Jesus knew in advance that this pseudo-disciple would turn out to be a terrorist, Jesus lovingly chose to wash his feet.  He models how Christians are invited to approach enemies of the State – love and service.

In the past 10 years, Evangelicals’ reputation for militarism and killing has been at the forefront of public perception.  Leaders in our movement condemned the actions of the terrorists (rightfully so) and then called for violent retribution.  Jesus certainly was quick to “name” evil but NEVER gave permission to his followers to do anything but serve those who hate us.  Worldly militaries function one way, Jesus followers function differently.

Ten years from now, when we arrive at the twentieth anniversary of that horrific day, my hope is that the paradigm of foot washing will inform the rhetoric and actions of Christians in America.  We can promote bombs or we can promote basins of water.  We can promote retribution or we can promote reconciliation.  We can join up in support and participation in the Armies of this Dark Age, or we can join in a new kind of “war” on terror: counterintuitive service and love.

Source: Greg Boyd
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  • I’m reminded of a comment I heard this week in response to injustice that went something like this: “We can seek justification [retribution/justice for the wrongs against us] or walk the path of reconciliation.”

    I’m praying that Christians will lead the way towards reconciliation. We are, after all, given the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). Justice at all costs only harbors bitterness.

  • Thank you for this thought provoking post. My Sunday school class had an interesting discussion last week on whether there was ever any justification for a Christian “holy war”. We were pondering this idea in the context of the tragedy of the Crusades and the fact that so many churches, schools, programs still use the language of the crusades without regard to its meaning and impact in other parts of the world. 

    Some of us tried to make a distinction between use of force for national security reasons as opposed to “religious” reasons, but your post throws an interesting light on the subject. I’ll have to print it for my class to read this week. Thanks!

  • This is good stuff Kurt. Our response to 9/11 as the church has often looked very little like Jesus.

  • Tim

    I’m not sure the Judas analogy works. Whenever I read approaches such as the one in this article, I’m left to wonder when the state is supposed to follow the model of Jesus and when it is not. For instance, Jesus never punishes anyone for wrongdoing. Does this mean the state should never do so? Why should the state imitate Jesus’ actions toward Judas but not some of his other actions (e.g., refraining from punishing lawbreakers)?

    • Richard

      Tim you bring up an interesting point.  The new testament gives authority to the state to avenge and punish.  That brings up another conflict.  How does a christian that is a politician with authority live according to Romans 13 and the sermon on the mount at the same time.  Some would say he would wear two hats depending which role he was in at the time.  I believe that is not what we as christians should do.  We as christians should not become political leaders.  The states mission is 180 degrees from the churches.  If the state tries to live by thesermon on the mount we end up with chaos and confusion and if the church lives by romans 13 we lose our testimony.  The church and the state are two circles that should never intersect with each other.

      • Tim

        Given that perspective, should Christians be telling the state how to conduct its affairs, as Kurt has done in this essay? It would seem not…

        • @3fb2f30cba56918b58fd84cf4e94fa19:disqus … clearly you misread the article.  I am telling  *Christians* not to support militarism or participate in violence.  The application then is that Christians shouldn’t continue the cycle of both participating in violence  (ie Christians in the military) and condoning violence (being quick to urge the government to drop bombs when alternatives that preserve *Life* are available).  Lets be prolife from the womb to the tomb so that we have a consistent ethic that lines up with the New Testament.

          The church should always speak truth to power to hold evil (of the US and all other nations) at bay.  As Dr. King said: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant
          of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must
          be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the
          church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an
          irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

          Therefore, we can prophetically call governments to justice and mercy (just like almost every OT Prophet did) while also refusing to carry the sword.  Certainly God gives the authority to the state to punish evil doers, but the logic is not a free pass to governments just because the *claim* to be a Christian Nation.

          Grace and Peace.

          PS, to reference your comment and Richard’s as well, read this post which is part of a series called “Nonviolence 101.”  here I make the distinction of the state and the church in policing and military from a solid exegesis of the biblical text.

      • simone

        What should political leaders  do if they become christians?

        • @5eb2e37b1121618d1205e5ac47d56937:disqus … you ask a good question.  Here is how Christians shortly after the time of the Apostles answered that question…

          “The professions and trades of those who are going to be
          accepted into the community must be examined.  The nature and type of
          each must be established… brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer,
          athlete, gladiator… give it up or be rejected.  A military constable
          must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to
          follow these instructions, he must be rejected.  A proconsul or
          magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it
          up or be rejected.  Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to
          become a soldier shall be sent away, for he ha despised God.”  —
          Hippolytus, 218 AD[1]

          I do not wish to be a ruler.  I do not strive for
          wealth.  I refuse offices connected with military command.  I despise
          death.  — Tatian[2]

          We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and
          everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have
          traded in our weapons of war.  We have exchanged our swords for
          plowshares, our spears for farm tools… now we cultivate the fear of God,
          justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us
          through the crucified one… the more we are persecuted and martyred, the
          more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.  – Justin,
          martyred in 165 AD[3]

          “I recognize no empire of this present age.”  — Speratus, Acts of the Martyrs[4]

          • simone

            Thanks for that Kurt. I do wonder about some of it though. I mean, athletes were also required to give up their profession. That’s not something that’s demanded today.  And forgive me but I have to ask, but what if through the Holy Spirit and evangelism ALL the political leaders were to turn to Christ? Then what?  And should police officers be included in the list of those who should turn from their professions if they become Christians?  I don’t know, I would feel more comforted not less if I knew there were followers of Christ among those whose job it is to carry a weapon and protect the innocent.
            But, that’s just me and I’m still working all of this stuff out in my head.  🙂
            Thanks again for your detailed response.

  • Mike Ward

    Jesus does not say that we are to wash our enemy’s feet. He says we are to wash each other’s feet. In verse 14 he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” He identifies himself as their Lord and teacher. This makes those he is a addressing his disciples. Jesus is saying that if he washes his disciples feet then his disciples should wash each other’s feet. Judas was Jesus’ disciple and one of the Twelve. He was also Jesus’ enemy, but Jesus identifies himself as the Lord and teacher of all those whose feet he washed so it is the master/disciple relationship that is relevant to the example in the context here.

    It would probably be an application of Mattew 5:39-41 to wash an enemy’s feet who demanded it in order to be a peacemaker, but that’s not the same thing as what is being discussed in John 13.

    Also, I wish you would take that picture down.

    • Richard

      Mike, I agree with you.  How many in the picture are clean except their feet. How many are disciples of Jesus.  I believe footwashing is an ordinance just like communion and baptisim but is neglected in the 21st century church.

      • Even if it is the case that footwashing is a sacrament (and, as I am squeamish of feet, I really hope it isn’t!), surely the whole point of the sacraments is that they are means of grace to those who exactly aren’t worthy! 

        The logic of the sacramental life is that all are invited to die and be raised with Christ’s new life in baptism and then come regularly around the table to encounter his presence and little by little be changed as we come to know him more. That’s very different from being worthy before coming to the table.

        As the words of institution in my denomination back at home say:

        “Come to this table not because you must but because you may, … 
        not because you are strong but because you are weak, 
        not because you have any claim on heaven’s rewards, 
        but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need 
        of heaven’s mercy and help”
        It’s not our worth and ‘clean’ state that means we get served and welcomed by Jesus and in turn serve and welcome each other (including our enemies) in peace, grace and reconciliation. Instead, it’s because we have seen something very strange and compelling in the grace of God and we extend that strangeness to all, friend or enemy alike.

    • @671e3eae3e90ae08c3a2f1bd39e8dc7d:disqus … thats actually, in my opinion, to ignore literary context of the passage.  The story is framed by *Judas* in both the beginning and end.  The storyteller (John) clearly emphasizes this part of the story (inspired by the Holy Spirit) for a reason.  The way the story is told matters, a lot!

      We are called to emulate Christ… to follow in his steps.  We don’t just follow the words of Jesus but we are invited to emulate his actions.  If he washed his enemy’s feet… we ought to be willing to do the same.

      As far as the picture… Whats the difference between Jesus washing Judas’ or Osama’s feet?  Would you be equally offended by an image that pictured Judas being washed by Jesus?  If not, I invite you to reconsider if your view is thoroughly biblical or conditioned by your specific worldview.


    • Ian

      Jesus commands us to LOVE our enemies. And I think that we would agree that true love acts out of love. If that includes serving and honoring someone by washing their feet then so be it.

      The example that Jesus gave us in how to act towards our enemies sets the bar pretty high. The cross.

      “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when WE WERE ENEMIES we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” -Romans 5:8-10

      Jesus did more for his enemies than just wash their feet. And he did it for more than just Judas. We were all enemies of Jesus, but instead of demanding justice, He demanded mercy. That’s the example we need to follow.

      Now when it comes to the state waging war, well that may or may not be allowed by Romans 13 (that would entirely depend on the nature of the war) but consider this. As Christians everything we do should bring glory to God. Right? Does committing violence in the name of country glorify God? Or does God take pleasure in war? 

      I feel my stomach tie itself in a knot every time I hear someone from my church say “I think God had called me to serve in the military”. The bride of Christ really has no business on a battlefield (unless that is to be serving the injured or something along those lines).

  • Jonathan Aigner

    This is wonderful, friend.  The events of the day were horrific, absolutely.  There is a chance here, though, for a most authentic manifestation of gospel.  I pray that we don’t miss that chance.

    • @google-d4f4922de7dc2e846de0ad7d747a29d6:disqus … thanks bro!

  • Amen Kurt! Bless you for having the courage to speak this timeless truth in the midst of so much nonsensical “redemptive violence”. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s assessment that all men understand Christ’s teaching on non-violence and enemy love, except Christians. Today in Christendom, so many have their allegiance to Christ fused with a bizarre amalgamation of nationalism, fear and an us vs them worldview. May we learn to mirror the self-sacrificial love of Christ.

  • Chadmiller   Check out this new book from Lee camp, (anabaptist with a southern twang)  this is exactly what we need to hear.    From the time we saw our response to 9/11 as a holy war we entered into the exact narrative the Jihadist where hoping for.

  • “In the past 10 years, Evangelicals’ reputation for militarism and
    killing has been at the forefront of public perception. ”  This makes me sad.  I think it gets complex too… if you’re interested, check out some thoughts on “Civil religion”, War, Nationalism and Religion

  • Hey Kurt – Thanks for this, and I’ve linked it on my own blog.

  • Peter

    >>  Check out this new book from Lee camp, (anabaptist with
    >> a southern twang) this is exactly what we need to hear.

    If we’re going to promote books tied to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the light of the Gospel message, then perhaps another recommendation would be ‘Blood Guilt’ (New Covenant Press: ).  Subtitled, “Christian Responses to America’s War on Terror,” the author uses September 11th, 2001, and America’s subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as the backdrop for his personal essays on Christian separatism.  The book not only examines the role played by Christians in America’s War on Terror, but also considers the proper role of Christians in the areas of protest and politics. It has a heavy Anabaptist theology and should have been written 11 years ago and read by many of the parties portrayed in the above foot-washing picture.