In John 13 we find a well-known story about Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. In Jesus’ times people walked around all the time in sandals or barefoot and picked up a lot of dirt and other grime along the way. Footwashing was essential, but it was a menial task that someone usually did themselves or had a servant do for them. Yet in this story we see Jesus washing his disciple’s feet.
In verse 8 Peter objects saying, “You shall never wash my feet.” Why was Peter so appalled by the idea of Jesus washing his feet? Because it was a task reserved for servants or slaves. Jesus was their teacher, their master and their Lord. And yet he put himself in a subservient position, stripped down to his skivvies, grabbed a bowl of water and a towel and went around on hands and knees washing their feet.
Should somebody else have washed the feet? Maybe. It was customary at the time for the host to have a servant wash the feet of those who were guests. That doesn’t happen here. No host or servant is even mentioned in the room at the time. But it does seem that there was a pitcher and a bowl and a towel readily available. Any one of the disciples could have offered to wash the feet of the others. But I would imagine they all that task was beneath them. Knowing the disciples they were probably looking around at each other figuring that one of the other guys should do it. They did after all get caught on multiple occasions arguing about which one of them was the greatest.
In reality, one of the disciples should have done this footwashing. If there was one person in the room who should not have done it, based on the customs of that time, it was Jesus. And yet he is the one who did it.
This would have been an emotional, powerful, jarring image for the disciples. And that is probably what Jesus was going for, because the lesson is not just about serving one another. This is a lesson in humility. Jesus is saying, if I would wash your feet, then whose feet could it possibly be beneath you to wash?
Jesus then goes on to challenge them to follow his example in verse 17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
Jesus wants us to serve one another, but I think we can serve others without really getting the lesson that Jesus is giving here. We can approach this almost like a boy scout approaching getting a service merit badge, but I don’t think that is the point.
I believe Jesus is challenging them to a brand new way of viewing their lives. I believe he is calling them to a radical self-abasing, others-focused kind of life. It is the kind of life that Jesus himself exemplified in the way he lived and died. He didn’t just sacrifice his life on the cross, he sacrificed it every day he lived on this earth by the way he cared for and served those around him.
I don’t think that Jesus is calling us to acts of service. I think he is calling us to heart change. He is calling us to a heart of humility and servanthood and that is harder than just volunteering for some service projects.
This is a lesson or us to have different view of our lives. It is for us to humble ourselves to look at our lives with a different perspective recognizing that we are servants of Christ and therefore servants of one another. Remember, as followers of Christ, we are to be becoming like the one we are following. Well, this passage is who Christ is. He lived a life of humility and servanthood. And I believe the only way for us to become like this is for him to work supernaturally in our lives to make us more like him. The question is, do we want this and are we willing to yield our lives to someone who wants this for us?