The Grand Tour
On Sunday, 21 days after the Grand Depart, Tadej Pogacar rolled down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to be officially crowned the youngest ever winner of the 2020 Tour de France (he's the one in yellow, below). For those who enjoy the cycling like I do, I trust you enjoyed it. For those who don’t, I’ll try not to go on at too much length about it.
The Tour de France, like other multi-stage rides, is a fascinating competition that combines skill, strength, strategy and no shortage of good fortune on occasions. It’s competed by individuals who represent different teams, and beforehand each team will pick different types of riders to make up their team – sprinters, climbers, etc. They’ll also identify the rider they believe has the best chance of doing best overall, often someone who will fair well in the mountain stages, where day after painful day are spent climbing hills whose steepness is vomit-inducing!
The ‘favourite’ rider is known as the team leader, and he rides each stage with others known as domestiques.Domestique is a French word meaning ‘servant’. The domestiques serve the leader by riding in front of him, bearing the brunt of the headwind, by shielding him from the buffering of other riders, by responding to ‘attacks’ (strategic moves by other teams to exert themselves and gain advantage). The domestiques also drop back to team support vehicles to stuff their lycra outfits with enough water bottles to leave you questioning how it’s even possible and then catch back up with their leader to distribute them. They pick up food bags from roadside provisions and take them to the leader. They are on hand to serve the leader in any way necessary. You see where I’m going with this?
I wonder what life in community with other believers would look like if we took the attitude of a domestique towards one another. How radically different would things look if we didn’t just race for ourselves, but poured ourselves out for the sake of others. What if, rather than personal comfort we endured pain or discomfort in order that others are promoted? What if, rather than renown or glory, we took a lowly posture in order that others could be lifted up?
Only one man in history has ever had the right to demand the deferential service of others – his name is Jesus. That Jesus even came to this earth in the first place is a matchless example of humility, but that wasn’t the end. Instead, he declared of himself that he had not come to be served but to serve. Among aspirational leaders and people of influence, magnanimity and humility are often spoken, but less frequently modelled. Not so with Jesus. Knowing that he would soon face death, he met with friends for a meal. He was not consumed with his own affairs or pressing issues, but instead in an hour of unimaginable pressure, he grabbed a bowl of water and a cloth and washed his friends’ feet.
Feet covered in mud and cattle muck. Feet calloused from constant exposure to first-century Galilean heat and dust.
He humbled himself, and he washed.
Jesus was teaching something profound about what is involved in being his followers: the humble, self-sacrificing service of others.
His example of humility didn’t end there. Having taken on the role of domestique, he humbled himself even to death on a cross. Why? To lift a fallen humanity to heights beyond our wildest dreams; to heal though brokenness; to offer fulness through his self-emptying.
Around the time he reached for the bowl and towel, Jesus issued an instruction to his friends: Love one another. He wasn’t advocating that we love one another in word, nor that we simply play at loving one another whilst really keeping each other at a safe and muck-free distance, but that we ‘get our hands dirty’ in demonstrating our love for one another. That we bear the cost, the inconvenience, the indignity at times of showing our deep, Jesus-inspired love for one another.
In the Tour de France, domestiques don’t ride with the expectation of glory or podiums, but spend their energy and suffer degrees of pain for the sake of another. As you consider your relationships with others, are they characterised by convenience and comfort or service and sacrifice? As we consider him who humbly suffered the greatest indignity, let’s resolve to love one another in so radical a way that others see and can’t help but recognise the difference being Jesus’ followers makes.