During supper . . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands . . . rose from supper . . . and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. – John 13:2-5 (ESV)
I have to confess that I’m not a very good servant. Yes, I pastor a church and yes, I’ve been a more-or-less follower of Jesus for almost forty years now, but I still struggle to be an effective servant. I still complain sometimes when I have to go the extra mile, especially when it comes to doing a job someone else is supposed to do.
What started me thinking in this direction is this passage from John. I’m teaching a Bible study on John and after many months, we finally made it to chapter thirteen. And, as has happened many times before, I’m rereading a very familiar passage, a passage I’ve preached on more than once, when something jumps out and grabs hold of my pride, something I didn’t see before.
Foot washing was a very menial task. People went around barefoot or in sandals, and their feet naturally got muddy and dusty. Guests’ feet were usually washed on arrival at the host’s home by a servant, because people didn’t sit at a table to eat but reclined on the floor. This put their feet at the same level with their head. It was a menial job to say the least, but it was also a necessary job.
However none of the disciples, upon arriving at the place Jesus arranged to have the Passover Feast, was willing to stoop to the lowly job of washing the feet of their companions. They may have been hanging out with each other for three years, but no one was going to volunteer to serve the others.
Finally Jesus, in the middle of the meal, gets up and washes their feet. I get the picture that He’s waited as long as He could for one of the boys to understand the true nature of servanthood, and when they don’t, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them.
How humiliating! Here we have all the personally chosen disciples of Jesus, all too proud to wash each others feet, now having their feet washed by their teacher and soon to be Savior. How would you feel if Jesus did something for you that you were too proud to do for someone else? The disciples were too proud to do a necessary job, so Jesus does it for them. No wonder Peter objects (vs. 8). I would too. I’d be embarrassed and ashamed to let Jesus do something I was too proud to do.
I’m sure we’ve all had experiences where a leader we admired shamed us by doing a job we showed ourselves too proud to do. I witnessed a senior pastor washing dishes after a church fellowship while the men on the church board left early. I watched a wealthy business owner wash dirty windows because his too-proud employees didn’t want to be seen doing such a menial task. I know about a bi-vocational pastor who was vacuuming the fellowship hall while retired members of the church watched from their chairs. Maybe it never occurred to them to help. Or maybe they were too embarrassed to do the job they should have volunteered to do in the first place.
Jesus reminds us it is never too late to serve. Jesus got up in the middle of the meal to remind us it is never too late to do what is right. I don’t think Jesus wanted to shame His disciples, but many times we bring that shame upon ourselves. I know I have. I’ve also learned that humility will eliminate shame if I will act in the manner of Christ.
I also know I have the supreme example of servanthood from the one Person I should be serving with all my life. If becoming a man and dying for my sins was not beneath the dignity of God my Savior, then there is nothing in God’s kingdom that is beneath the dignity of me, His servant. It is a lesson I’m learning late in life, but I’m glad to know I’m learning it.