Service is a big deal. Restaurants, hotels, companies and corporations are sometimes judged more by their service than by their products. Wise leaders work hard at “improving the serve” of their organization. Why? Because pleasant, responsive, thorough and gracious service is a key to building something great. And according to Jesus, it's one of the keys to building a great life.
Jesus didn't just teach this, He lived it. In one of the most moving stories of the New Testament, we see Jesus' example of unexpected, amazing service.
The setting of the story is the night before Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus assembled His disciples in a room in Jerusalem for a meal. We now refer to this event as Jesus' “Last Supper.” You've seen artists' depiction of it.
As the disciples gathered that evening, an important act of service was ignored. It was the custom at times like this for the dusty and muddy feet of dinner guests to be washed when they arrived at the host's home. Feet washing was a lowly job, usually performed by a servant in the house or by the host of the meal. It was a statement of care, kindness and hospitality. It was a way to show love to the people present.
None of the disciples was willing to volunteer for this task. They all felt too important to be washing their fellow disciples' feet. This was a “servants” job, and nobody wanted to be identified with that role. They wanted dignity, prestige, greatness. In fact, a part of the conversation that evening included a contentious debate among the disciples about which one of them was the greatest! (See Luke 22:24.)
In the midst of all this, Jesus, the Son of God, did something incredible. Take a look at the way the apostle John described it:
Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. — John 13:3-5 (Message)
Jesus, fully aware of all that was about to happen to Him — that He would be arrested within a few hours and crucified the very next day — took His eyes off of Himself and thought about serving others. But He didn't just think about serving, He did it. He got up and did what no one else in the room was willing to do.
We can only imagine how quiet the room became when Jesus knelt down at the feet of each of His disciples. The group included Peter who would soon deny Him and Judas who had already sold Him out to the people planning to kill Him.The blustering, brash pride of the disciples that had so permeated the room earlier was exposed by Jesus' humble attitude and act. You can believe that, as Jesus went from disciple to disciple washing feet, the atmosphere radically and immediately changed. The spirit of pride and self-importance among these men was confronted and expelled by the servant-hearted spirit of Jesus.
By His example, Jesus taught us how we are to live:
After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. — John 13:12-15 (NLT)
How many times do we think and act the same way Jesus' disciples did that night? Our attitude is “I don't do feet! That kind of stuff is for someone else. I'm too important for such menial tasks!”
Part of becoming a true follower of Jesus includes letting go of the pride and sense of self-importance that keep us from deveoloping a servant's heart. If Jesus can wash feet, so can we, and so should we.
While literal feet washing is not something needed in our culture today, there are many other ways we can wash feet through simple acts of humble service to others.
When we volunteer for the non-spectacular tasks, for the duties no one wants, for the behind-the-scenes work no one will see, for doing good and helpful things no one notices or applauds, we're beginning to get the lesson Jesus taught that evening.
It's time for all of us to “improve our serve!”