Looking to see what Jesus did? We get an eyeful in John 13.
On the way to Jerusalem facing the greatest challenge of His meaning-packed 3-1/2 years on earth, with scourging and crucifixion imminent, all his clueless disciples wanted to do was argue about who was the greatest — how could they know about Mohammed Ali back then! But they thought they deserved to have the honor of sitting at Christ’s right hand in His kingdom.
At His last Passover with His beloved disciples, before instituting the new symbols of unleavened bread and wine symbolizing recommitment to our Lamb of God Savior, Jesus knew they needed an attitude makeover before being ready for such a commitment. Earlier He had tried to teach them that they must be servants and not seek to lord it over like the Gentiles (Matt. 20:25-28). And they were right back at it again (Luke 22:24)!
So He got up, filled a basin with water and washed their feet! This totally shocked them because this dirty task (from trodding the dusty roads) was something not done by even the lowliest servants. The practice was to hand a guest a basin of water and let them wash their own feet (Luke 7:44, Gen. 18:4). Ugh, such filth! You do it!
With action speaking louder than words, Jesus shouted at them by pure heart example that the greatest would be the humble servants demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ their Savior living in them.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15, NIV).
More than just a beautiful annual ceremony, we are inspired to wash feet wherever our service is needed. Bring on the feet! No matter how dirty, deformed or yellowed! Let’s do it!
But, wait! Do we notice what Peter actually exclaimed when Jesus knelt before him: “You shall never wash my feet!” At this point the idea of washing somebody’s feet didn’t repulse him. But no way did he want to humble himself to let somebody wash his!
After 45 years of doing the annual ceremony and also striving to wash feet in Christ-centered servant leadership all these years long, I have found it’s much harder to put out your hooves so somebody else can have the growing experience of such loving service.
It sounds like such humility to kneel but it’s strangely easier than sitting in the chair and wondering what they are thinking about your ugly feet.
Oh the joy of watching somebody open your choice present more than trying to come up with the words to thank them for theirs. “You shouldn’t have.” We probably mean it.
When I was first converted, the man and woman who were like father and mother to me in the church would regularly do so many nice things for me. But when I tried to do something nice back for them, they would refuse to let me! They were self-reliant live-off-the-land ranchers. I’ll give you the shirt off my back but you keep yours on! … oh, so you don’t freeze or get sunburned. One day I had a heart-to-heart talk to them about it, and they proved their humble serving conversion by yielding.
One of the funniest escapades I ever witnessed among converted brethren was at the conclusion of eating out at a restaurant with several men who are very generous and known for picking up the check. What a hoot to see them jockeying to be the one to get their hands on the check! They weren’t used to being treated that way!
OK, it should go without saying that God does not want mooches and freeloaders! But there is a right time and place to let others learn the joy of washing feet. It’s simply a not-so-obvious fact that they can’t use the basin without somebody contributing the dirty feet!
A corollary: For really beautiful Christ-centered servant leadership, it takes beautiful Christ-centered responsive followers. As the “Life’s a Dance” song by John Michael Montgomery puts it so well, “Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow.”
It takes basin and feet.
FUN FACT: Praise to our Creator, our hooves were designed to act like snowshoes so we can travel smoothly over snow and also through mud and marsh. You’ll have your hands full if you try to wash feet on me. Double trouble! And quite a feat! I understand if you choose to let me just splash around here in my boggy basin.
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