“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.”
So often Christian principles and teaching contrast sharply with secular standards for advancement in life. Self-promotion, self-confidence and self-articulation applied with skillful boldness, are crucial for the fight to press forward. Goal setting is all-important, they say.
The idea of servant leadership has been analyzed extensively, to be used cunningly and overtly for the same advancement of self, as any arrogant, defiant and big mouth attitude of so called “strong” leadership could ever be. Servanthood can be faked. The attitude can be learnt without the heart of humility and love.
On the other hand, servant leadership with the love and servant-heart humility, the real thing, the original concept we learn in John 13, is a powerful life-changing act of greatness. It is refreshingly void of an earthly sense of achievement. It is a pouring out of self into a conscious response to provide comfort and show humble, authentic focus on another person.
It is an ancient exercise in the very modern buzzword: mindfulness.
To kneel down and wash somebody’s feet is the indisputable act of being in the moment.
Jesus knew the cross was near, but He also knew His glorification and victory were near. He acted in supreme humility with no pride.
To wash the feet of people attending a meal was a menial task for a slave. Feet were usually very dirty. They walked the dusty roads with sandals. At the door of most buildings were big pots for washing and a servant, mostly a slave with a towel, ready to wash the feet of anybody entering.
Jesus was near to God. That brought Him even closer to men. He performed a task that His disciples would not dream of doing. They were caught up in culture. Society dictated what is to be done, by whom and how.
Jesus was close to suffering and poverty throughout His ministry on earth. Proximity to the suffering and poverty of others brings us closer to humanity where we reflect His life, light and love (the theme of this Gospel).
He also washed the feet of Judas. It showed His love and forgiveness even while knowing he planned the betrayal.
The scene at this occasion, which might or might not be the Last Supper, was filled with competitive pride. Maybe no one would have accepted the duty of feet washing. Jesus did that which none were prepared to do as an example of how we ought to behave towards one another.
So often in churches trouble arises over positions or the honour that goes with the office. This is a lesson in the greatness of service without any vision of position.
[In the British Army the ordinary troops eat before the officers when they are out on the battlefield]
The scene set by Jesus in this room with His closest friends is a dramatic and unforgettable lesson in humility.
Humility is counter-intuitive living. I can really recommend the book by John Dickson called Humilitas as well as Andrew Murray’s book on Humility – the Beauty of Holiness. It is powerful and to the point analyses of the principle and the misconceptions of weakness associated with a worldly view.
Humility is the road to greatness and fulfilled content living. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Here is how Andrew Murray says it:
“Here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down! Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.”
It was not customary for the host to wash the feet of guests. You either did it yourself or a slave did it. Jesus is comfortable in ‘breaking the laws of custom’. He did it without flinching on quite a few occasions. (Jewish Sabbath (Mark 2:23-26); the Jewish fasts (Mark 2:18-22); the Jewish cleansings (Mark 7:1-20)).
Humility is a virtue in the Christian life (Luke 22:27; compare Matthew 5:5; 23:11,12). The Greek philosophers mostly shunned humility and meekness as weak traits for good living.
Peter’s remark to be part of Jesus as a whole comes in the shock of what Jesus is doing. He wants this scene to be different from the well-known picture of a slave washing the feet, which they saw daily.
He wants to change the menial to something more. Jesus does not allow it. Peter wants a special touch from the Master.
Jesus’ remark on those who have been bathed refers to baptism. Baptism as the seal on a new life after rebirth brings us into the Kingdom. It is not repeated. It does not happen every time we approach God. We just need a washing of our feet, cleaning off the dust and grime of the paths we have to walk in the brokenness of this world each day.
Before the feast the people bathed as they obeyed the cleansing instructions of the law of Moses. When they arrived only the feet washing was necessary. Feet washing were part of the entrance to the house. If Peter were too proud to accept the washing, he would miss out on the touch of the Master.
Pride shuts you out, makes you to miss out, and makes you blind for provision and the small miracles in life.
We should accept the way Jesus chooses to make us part of Him and in so doing receive God.
Judas’ betrayal was foremost in Jesus’ mind. He suffered because He knew what was coming. (Psalm 41:9; 55:12-14)
Betrayal is an important theme here as it is the opposite of love and loyalty (2 Samuel 9:7,13). By washing the feet of Judas, Jesus wanted to communicate that the occasion was more profound than Judas realized. Judas was so set on his own goals to use Jesus in a confrontation with the authorities and force His hand for his own goal of getting rid of Roman rule, that he completely missed the message in the action.
Betrayal is often committed by the one who eats bread at your table.
It is Jesus’ last appeal to Judas.
There is often tragedy in the purpose of God and here it is accepted by Jesus because of Scripture. Redeeming the world cost the broken heart of God. Jesus was not killed – He chose to die. So many times we have to look back for understanding. Things are not so clear in the moment.
At this juncture the bitterness of disloyalty played out in the same moment as the glory of unfailing allegiance. All the faithful disciples became witnesses to the greatest message and man of all time and history.
We also need a washing to enter the house. The house is symbolic of the presence of God. The house that night was where Jesus was and He welcomed them to a meal with Him at the table with this most extraordinary deed. Could we submit to His methods? We might be shocked like Peter and try to reason it into something else.
Let us come with a humble heart and pray: Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven and then enter into the heaven of His presence.