Wash Their Feet
It was hot, dry, and dusty. The sweat mixed with the dirt and whatever else was on the road and created an unpleasant…well, the word that comes to my mind is schmutz, which is German for dirt. Schmutz just sounds perfect for the filth I envision as I imagine the feet of the disciples as they came to this final Seder meal.
Normally the lowest ranking servant had the unpleasant and demeaning task of washing the schmutz off the feet of the household and guests as they entered the house. But, as you may recall, this Seder was a rather clandestine event. A couple of the disciples had rendezvoused with a man who had led them to an upper room where they could prepare the meal. There were no servants involved in this intimate gathering, and no one took it upon themselves to see to this piece of etiquette and hospitality—no one but Jesus.
As a matter of fact, the disciples had been jockeying a bit for Kingdom positions, and that attitude isn’t one that is likely to give rise to humbling oneself at the feet of the very person one may see as a rival. There was probably no sermon or lecture or act of miraculous power that could have better taken the disciples to task for their attitude of pride than when Jesus laid aside His garments, wrapped a serving towel around His waist and knelt down to wash the schmutz off of the feet of His disciples.
Imagine the shock, the embarrassment, even the revulsion of these men. I’m not even sure if we can truly grasp what a cultural affront this was in their eyes. This just wasn’t done! Their thoughts may have run the gamut from “What is He doing?” to “How could He do this?” to “How dare He do this?” This Rabbi that they admired so much was demeaning Himself —and them! Not only did it make their pride stand in glaring contrast to His humility, it went beyond humility to humiliation. Much like when David danced before the Ark in wild abandon to the point it embarrassed his wife Michal, there was an element in this unabashed abasement that was embarrassing to witness. If the One they followed would debase Himself, what did it mean for them? What did it mean, indeed!
Like so much of what Jesus did, there were many layers of meaning involved with His actions:
• He displayed His humility as the Suffering Servant, along with the humility of the Godhead He represented.
• He demonstrated a sacrificial, servant love.
• He turned the concept of leadership on its head, contrasting what the world did to gain the upper hand with what would be
expected of leaders in His Kingdom.
• He called out His disciples—both then and now—to follow His example in how to lead from our knees.
It may be difficult for us to think of the Sovereign, almighty Creator of the Universe as humble, but the fact that He would make Himself known to such insignificant of His creatures, that He would draw us to Himself, love us and make a way for us to be saved through such an unfathomable cost to Himself—these are just some of the evidences of the quality of humility found in the Godhead. Jesus, as the full representation of the Godhead in physical form, makes this quality fully evident. So many scriptures bear witness to this, but nothing is clearer than Jesus kneeling to wash the schmutz of the feet of His men.
A few pages over in the book of John, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” He would live this out explicitly the next day, but this act of washing the feet was an expression of dying, as well. It is a death to self-exaltation, a death to self-seeking, to all that is prideful in our interaction with the one we kneel before to serve. In some cases it is perhaps even a harder death than a physical one.
I don’t imagine Jesus washed their feet with an attitude of, “Take this, you jerks,” or one that expressed, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?” Knowing Jesus and His love for His disciples, it was done gently, tenderly, pleadingly, lovingly. He even washed the feet of the one who would betray Him. It isn’t to say He was not making a point—He was always intentional. He told them specifically, “You don’t understand what I am doing now, but I am calling you to follow suit. This is how you lead—from your knees, humbly, serving one another, not lording it over each other.”
What about us—you and me? Is His kind of servanthood evident in our lives? Are we willing to do the schumtzy tasks, to lead and love from our knees, as He did? Examining this event should stir in us the tandem desire to worship Him for all it reveals about His humility, love, servanthood, and wisdom, along with the need to repent of our unwillingness to humble ourselves before others, even our enemies, and wash their feet—obeying God’s lead in whatever way He calls us out to serve them.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries