John 13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
This moment where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in one in which he models humility, not only for the disciples, but all Christ-followers who would come after. He humbled himself and then used his actions as a teachable moment. He didn’t just verbally teach them lessons, he acted them out. This was a visible image of the kingdom of God. The Lord and Teacher would humble himself to wash the feet of others. Jesus clearly said that this was an example to all of them that they were to live this kind of a lifestyle of service to others. It is in service to others that we discover that we are blessed.
There have been those throughout the centuries who have argued over whether Jesus meant that we are to wash others’ feet literally, or metaphorically. I think there is some truth in understanding this both ways. I will never forget visiting Mother Theresa’s home for the destitute and dying in Calcutta. The place was filled with those who were coming to the end of life and were suffering. I met a family from Germany who had brought there children there on holiday. Instead of spending money on themselves, they chose to come and literally wash the feet of others. They spent their days lovingly washing the bodies of those who had suffered the long-term effects of poverty. They wouldn’t heal them, but they would humbly love them and give them dignity during the last days of their lives. This is what Mother Theresa had challenged others to do — to follow the example of Jesus and to humbly serve others.
Whether we literally wash others' feet, or we live a humble lifestyle of service to others, Jesus expects action on our part. Something happens in that moment when we wash away the filth of others (physically or metaphorically), for it just may be that we experience personal cleansing at the same time. This is a spiritual moment, and encounter where we follow Jesus’ self-emptying which eventually leads to the cross. We are called to become Christ-like and Jesus gave of himself for the sake of others. We must give of ourselves for the sake of others. We can’t just read and study about what Jesus did to become like him, we must actually follow in his footsteps, follow his example, and give of ourselves to become transformed into his image.
The Lenten journey continues and today we remember the night that Jesus ate with his disciples. Remember that he took time out on this day to teach about humble service in the kingdom. It’s one of the last lessons he wanted to teach the disciples, so this was very important to him, and therefore it ought to be to us. Let us live in love as we pursue the one who loved us enough to give his life for us. Look for opportunities to serve others.
Lord, please help me to follow you and serve in humility. Amen.