Humble Servanthood: Jesus Washing the Disciples’ Feet

a chalk and grisaille on paper by Edelfelt from www.turnbacktogod.com

a chalk and grisaille on paper by Edelfelt from http://www.turnbacktogod.com

After his ‘triumphal entry’ to Jerusalem seated on a donkey’s colt Jesus predicts his death.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.  Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”  

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said and angel had spoken to him.”   John 12: 23-29

Now Jesus and his chosen few withdraw to an upper room in Jerusalem to partake in the Passover Feast.   Here he institutes the “Memorial” of the Eucharist:

“After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way , after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  Mt.26: 26-29, Mk.14: 22-25, Lk.22: 17-20.

He then makes hints of being betrayed by one of them at the table and they question each other who it might be.

It seems absurd, amidst this setting, but it is presumed due to Jesus’ indication that the coming of his ‘kingdom’ is imminent, some of the apostles begin to discuss which of them is the greatest.  How can this be?  After walking with Jesus throughout his ministry, listening to his teaching regarding the nature of this ‘kingdom’, how can they not understand?

Of course, now, this is so easy from my current perspective.   I am not being persecuted under the power of the Roman Empire longing for a new ‘earthly kingdom.’  So what does Jesus do?  He begins to wash the feet of his disciples.

Painting by Ford Madox Brown 1865; from www.turnbacktogod.com

Painting by Ford Madox Brown 1865; from http://www.turnbacktogod.com

“A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest.  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.  You are those who stood by me in my trials.  And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  Lk.22: 24-30

a painting of Jesus washing feet at Last Supper; from www.turnbacktogod.com

a painting of Jesus washing feet at Last Supper; from http://www.turnbacktogod.com

“Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.  The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.”

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  Jn.13: 1-17

I can only wonder how long before the disciples fully discerned the incredible intensity of Jesus’ love for them and the nature of his humility toward them.  He, their Lord and Teacher stooped to serve their needs, and they (we) should do the same for one another.  This example of humility in servanthood is what we “followers of Jesus” are to show one another.  I find this very convicting.  Our western culture is so ‘me first’ oriented that I will truly need an extra measure of grace to not walk in the path of least resistance.

A contemporary painting of Jesus washing feet; from 'Words of Life-shadowlilies.wordpress'

A contemporary painting of Jesus washing feet; from ‘Words of Life-shadowlilies.wordpress’

The sovereignty of Christ from the cross is a new sovereignty.  It has destroyed forever the formula that might is right.  It has put to shame the self-assertion of false heroism.  It has surrounded with imperishable dignity the completeness of sacrifice.  It has made clear to the pure heart that the prerogative of authority is wider service.  The divine King rules forever by dying.       Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901)

My dear Jesus, Lord and Teacher, this example of humility and service … preceding the ultimate humiliation of the “Way of Suffering” …. crucified for all humanity … Even though you possessed the very nature of God, you claimed nothing for Your own advantage but emptied yourself taking the form of a slave.  Thank you for coming to serve and giving your life as a ransom for many.  I fear that I am too self-centered and selfish.  Help me to become more like you.  Show me how to humbly wash the feet of my brothers and sisters, bringing glory to the Son of Man.    Amen

 

 

 

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