John 13:1-20; (spring AD 30, Thursday evening of Passion Week)
Humble, even humiliating, service for others, placing yourself lower in status than them, should be part and parcel of being a Christian.
That’s the application Jesus gives in verses 12-15 for his washing of the disciples’ feet. The foot-washing itself was symbolically useful because it was the task typically given to the most junior servant or slave in a household, getting onto the dirt of the floor to wash the dirtiest, most smelly body part. You didn’t have to rise far in the ranks of service in your own household before you avoided this task.
We don’t usually pay attention to what prompted Jesus into this act of humble service: the reminder and reassurance of his identity and God the Father’s presence with him:
“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…” [emphasis mine] (v.3-4).
God lifted Jesus UP, and Jesus’ reaction was to reach DOWN. That’s not a coincidence or a strange reaction; rather, service for others to the glory of God is the natural response to a close sense of who we are, whose we are, and where we’re going.
Remind yourselves of those facts every day and encourage your brothers and sisters with that reality, understanding that encouraging each other towards God is a key reason you’re on earth.
And think of ways to wash each others feet. Not to virtue-signal, posting updates on social media of you doing manual or menial labour. But finding what needs doing, and doing it. There’s a lot of emphasis, for good reason, in us finding what we’re passionate about and talented at, and using those talents to serve the kingdom. That’s helping to pull the Christian church away from a tolerance for doing things badly under the guise of ‘the Lord looks at the heart’, or ‘it’s not how good you do it but why you’re doing it that counts’, or ‘God doesn’t mind’ (actually I think he DOES mind when we do a bad job, but that’s another issue).
But we’ve over-corrected. Having escaped the drudgery of tedium-as-holiness and low-standards-as-godly-service, we have become too individualistic and less like a family. For example, when was the last time you did something in service for the church, for no other reason than that it needed doing? Did someone’s shopping? Cleaned somebody’s house? Sat with someone because they needed a friend? Weeded someone’s garden? Helped someone organise their bills? Took someone some food?
A good friend of mine cleaned the toilets at our church for about twenty years (the church wasn’t big enough to afford to pay a cleaner). Did she like it? I asked. She looked at me like that was a daft question – of course she didn’t like it, she replied. So I asked her why she did something so unpleasant, and I got the same look.
“Because it needed doing”, she said.
Lowly service needs doing, and we should all be doing it.
A couple of explanatory notes:
- v.2: “…the devil had already prompted Judas…”
- This is an example of something very unusual: Satan having direct input into a person’s life. Satan’s just an angel – he’s not God and therefore is not everywhere, and doesn’t know what you’re thinking. But there are specific moments in history where he get personally involved; Jesus being on earth was one of those times, and Judas Iscariot was one of those people.
- v.10: “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet”
- Most likely, this simply means that if you’ve recently had a bath, a short walk will leave you needing to wash your feet but nothing else.