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 also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:12-15
Jesus asked this question because he knew his disciples of all times would have trouble grasping this point about Holy Week—Christian leaders get down on the floor. So Jesus made this lesson clear and direct. He is the master teacher; here he took the eternal truth and expressed it in a vivid, even uncomfortable, object lesson. He laid aside all the power and glory the Father had given him, got down on the floor, and washed the feet of his followers. What makes this hard to understand? Our pride and sense of privilege. We think we have done well when we are patient and polite with other people, especially with people who seem below us. Jesus tells us we need to bend lower. You may be the smartest one in the room. You may be the leader—gifted, appointed, and even called. But God has put you in that position to serve others, to serve in the lowest ways. “How many times do I have to . . . tell these people? clean up after these people? do what someone else should have done?” Well, one more time, at least. What I Have Done: Jesus—the holy, anointed Teacher and Lord—got down on the floor and showed what Christian leaders do. He washed his disciples’ feet. This action echoed the greater washing Jesus was doing that week, purifying us by paying the wages of our sins.
He died for all the times I refused to lift a finger, lose a privilege, or forget a time when I was disrespected. This washing was also a literal, practical, and daily job. The dirt sticks and collects along the miles, and a bowl of water with strong hands soothes and refreshes. This cleansing feels so good when you hire someone to do it, so think of what an absolute delight it is when the one who washes your feet is your lover and lord. For You: Jesus during Holy Week “loved [us] to the end” (John 13:1). Our Lord and Teacher got down on the floor to wash our feet. And then he got up on the cross. He did this to be the humble servant we’ve never been, and he did this to inspire us to do what we find so hard. Do we understand? As we watch Jesus on the floor with a towel around his waist and a basin, we better understand our sinful pride. We treasure Jesus’ love and gift. And we better understand what Christian leaders do. We get down on the floor to confess. We bow down to marvel at Jesus’ love. We kneel to serve—to be a delight to one another.
Dear Jesus, washer of our feet and souls, forgive us for our pride and lack of love. Lead us in your grace to live new lives serving each other. Amen.