Servant Leadership: Wash Each Other's Feet
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 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, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
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. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” - John 13:1-20
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” - John 13:31-35
The church I attended during college had the tradition of having a monthly potluck. On the first Sunday of each month, members would bring in casserole dishes of food and we would all gather in the basement after the worship service had concluded. While we were all busy eating and enjoying each other’s company, our pastor would slip into the kitchen. He would take each casserole dish and transfer the contents to a smaller seal-able container. Then he would wash the casserole dish and its matching spoon and replace it on the serving table in the exact place where he had found it. Once he had finished he would rejoin the conversation at the tables and act as if he had never left.
When I first caught him doing this my world was turned upside down! The pastor of the church was doing the dishes! Even more shocking, he was doing the dishes on his own and in secret! When I caught him a second time, I decided to help him and from that experience I learned that this act of service was an act of love.
Since that first time of catching my college pastor doing dishes, I’ve never thought of leadership the same. I realized that leadership isn’t so much about what you do in front of people as it is about how you care for people when no one is watching. Are you someone people want to follow even when no one is aware of what you are doing?
In the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet, the disciples were caught in as much or more surprise than I was when I caught my pastor washing dishes. Here at the Passover meal their Rabbi was acting like a servant, as he knelt down and washed their gritty, dirty feet.
I love Simon Peter’s response “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Then there is the moment of realization, where Peter recognizes that it is about more than washing feet and asks Jesus, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
In this story Jesus sets an example for how we are to behave as believers. It is one of many acts of service and submission that Jesus performs on his way to the crucifixion. And in this moment of leadership he tells us “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Let us take the time to care for one another. We are a family and we are called to follow Jesus the Messiah’s example and be leaders who serve one another in absolute humility.
Prayer: Jesus, Savior, Master, Friend, I have so much to learn from you. Thank you for being a mystery and for revealing yourself to the Church in ways that change how we as Christians see and act in the world. I don’t yet fully understand all of who you are, but I desire to know you better. Help me to see how I can follow your example and wash the feet of my brothers and sisters of Creation. Amen