It should not surprise us that there is something mystical about school janitors. Although dressed in humble work clothes, or even overalls, janitors are godlike in their knowledge of their buildings’ mysteries. This is fitting since the root word for “janitor” is Janus, the Roman God of new beginnings, doorways, and hallways. As important as the teachers, principals, and students are to a school, it’s the humble janitor that unlocks the doors.
Janitors serve in hiddenness. While students and teachers enjoy summer vacation, they strip and wax floors that in the fall shine brightly and smell like bananas. Early in the morning and late at night, they perform their mysterious rites in the temples of learning. During the day they appear and disappear with the jingle of their keys.
Although that ring of keys gives them tremendous authority, it is an authority exercised completely for the sake of others. Janitors open doors and clean rooms for others, not themselves. For all this, they receive little attention or honor. At night they carefully lock up the buildings to protect them from vandals. They faithfully prepare and preserve that which others daily enjoy.
Lest you think I am making too much of janitors, let me point out that the Apostle Peter has often been pictured as the janitor of heaven. In paintings and stained glass windows he shown as carrying a ring of keys. This tradition arose because of Matthew 16:18—19:
And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I shall give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. KJV
Although these words of Jesus to Peter are subject to various interpretations and much debate, I would like to suggest that this is a call for God’s people, the church, to serve as janitors of the kingdom.
Jesus was vicious in his criticism of the Pharisees for all they did to keep people out of the God’s kingdom. The Pharisees traded in their janitor overalls for beautiful robes and stood at the doors asking for money:
But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Matthew 23:13 NASB
Peter, and all followers of Jesus, are called to swing the doors open to sinners who are lost, broken, and rejected.
Like Peter, who denied Jesus three times, God’s janitors know that doors are opened to all who come trusting in the grace and forgiveness of God. We work hard at making the kingdom a safe and clean place for others to grow in the knowledge of God. Although we may have the keys, it isn’t about us.