The Call to Humility — In the Most Humiliating Way
In the shadow of the cross, the disciples actually had a dispute about who was greatest among them. Jesus reminded them that they were not to think like the Gentiles who lorded over everyone else, but instead to think like him. He further reminded them that as Kingdom children, they were to look upon the trinkets of the world with disdain; after all, they were to inherit a heavenly kingdom which far surpassed any and everything in this world.
But Jesus further thought to give them a wonderfully humble example of the kind of service he expects from his disciples. So Jesus laid aside his outer garments and assumed the humiliating attire of an ordinary slave, with a towel wrapped around his waist, which he then used to dry the feet of his disciples upon washing. In my mind, washing someone’s feet would not be near as humbling as doing so barely dressed, and then using the only cover you have for your nakedness as a towel for their feet, which must invariably exhibit the grime of such a chore, which you must now wear about your waist as a reminder of your humiliation before the whole world. The disciples were, of course, immediately aware of all that Jesus was acting out before them, but only Peter was brave enough to verbalize his offense: “You shall never wash my feet.” I don’t think it was a statement of arrogance on Peter’s part; I really think he had trouble bringing himself to allow Jesus to take such a humiliating role on his behalf. He understandably recoiled.
And so do I. Jesus said to his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Okay, I can serve people. That’s not an issue for me. Yes, and thanks to centuries of Christian teaching and godly examples, our society now glorifies the word, “service.” Our politicians are public “servants”; businesses seek to “serve” you. But do they do it from the position of the ancient slave, who had no choice and who was robbed of his dignity while serving? It’s easy to serve when it’s no insult to your personhood and sense of self-worth, and when you will be thanked or even praised for it afterwards. That’s not what Jesus illustrated. As usual, Jesus calls us to do that which only the Holy Spirit can do through us. And so without him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
This passage began by telling us that Jesus was preparing to return to the One who sent him. His work was almost complete. But he loved these men so much, there was something more he had to teach them – and this was it. And, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”