When the disciples began following Jesus they respected Him as a great teacher. They also recognized (as did many others) that He was not like the other itinerant rabbis that were commonplace at that time. Although Jesus’ teaching style was in the same tradition as His contemporaries, His delivery was quite different and the people took notice (Mt. 7:28-29). And like a good boss Jesus seemed to understand the disciples on a deeper level (Jn. 1:35-51). He saw into their hearts and when their motives weren’t living up to God’s standards, He called them on it (Lk. 22:24-34)! As the disciples traveled about Galilee, their respect and love for Jesus grew, and they wanted to understand what He did and why He did it more and more (Mt. 13:10-17; 24:1-8; Lk. 11:1-4). Jesus was an excellent teacher. He patiently answered their questions (Lk. 8:4-15), challenged their perception of the world (Mt. 5:21-22), and demonstrated in every aspect of life the lessons He wanted them to learn (Mt. 6:1-6; Mk. 1:35-38).
One of Jesus’ greatest lessons took place just prior to His crucifixion. It is one of those instances that tempt us to judge the disciples harshly, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve behaved the same way many times over. Passover has arrived and Jesus has sent the disciples into Jerusalem to make preparations for the meal (Mt. 26:17-19; Mk. 14:12-16). The general etiquette of the day would have required them to not only secure a place to eat and the food to enjoy, but also someone to serve it. Along with the food preparations, provision would be made for cleaning off dusty feet and washing hands. Apparently the disciples found the place Jesus had already reserved and took care of the food, but they failed to supply a servant for we read in John 13:1-17 that Jesus used this oversight to teach them a lesson on servanthood.
Meals were shared around a table, but not the kind you and I would naturally think of. These tables were low to the ground. Rugs and pillows would be placed around them and the diners would rest on their side while they enjoyed their food. However, before they came to the table a servant would wash their feet. Those streets and byways of old were pretty dusty so you can imagine the condition they were in! It appears that since Jesus rose AFTER supper that no one was hired to do this job and none of the disciples volunteered either (vv. 3-4). To see the person they admired, respected and even considered higher in status than themselves performing a lowly task such as foot washing must have made the disciples extremely uncomfortable which is apparent in Peter’s protest (v. 6). Jesus’ response to Peter is simply, “You don’t understand this now, but you will eventually”.
Some of the best lessons I’ve learned, especially in matters of faith, have come from watching others. I have witnessed believers face catastrophic illnesses with grace and certainty that no matter what the outcome they know the Lord is with them. I have watched fellow Christians respond with humility when attacked verbally and personally although they had every right to “fight back”. I have seen sacrifice, perseverance, hospitality, generosity, grace and love at times when the worldly response would have been completely opposite and understandable under the circumstances. This is exactly the kind of example that Jesus tells the disciples He has set before them by washing their feet (v. 15). They called Him “Teacher” (a name of respect) and “Lord” (an honorary title) which should have removed Him from the obligation of caring for dirty, dusty feet. Yet, it was not too menial a task for Him and now He was challenging them to “do as I did to you”.
The world is full of people who need their “feet washed”. But we are no different than the disciples. We are usually more concerned about who will wash our feet or we consider ourselves above such a low task. Christ was able to put aside Who He really was (Phil. 2:5-8) because He knew where He came from and where He was going (v. 3). The same is true for you and me. We know who we are in Christ (Jn. 1:12) and we know where we are going (Jn. 14:2-3). It is time to lay aside the garment of our pride when we are called to serve and serve as Our Teacher and Lord served. The reward of following His example is a life that is truly blessed (v. 17).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 8/14/2016