He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. John 13:5
Our culture is obsessed with upgrading. How many of us work hard to be less than we were the day before? How many of us strive to have less, be less, look less and use less of everything in our lives? NO, our culture today is all about upward mobility. We strive to upgrade our lifestyles, our gadgets and games. Some people upgrade relationships. Why do we do this? Psychologists call this the Virus of Affluenza.
It entails placing high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others and wanting to be famous.
The Saudi Prince, Alwaleed, who is often described as the most influential businessman in the Middle East sued Forbes magazine for getting his information wrong in their list of the richest men in the world. Forbes reported that he had 20 billion where Alwaleed claimed he has 30 billion. That lower amount placed him 26th on the list of the richest men on the planet.
When it comes to Jesus, we find a whole different attitude of thinking, where the world is striving for upward mobility, Jesus calls his disciples to a life that is totally the opposite. Jesus was the most prestigious, wealthy, and powerful person to ever live and yet how does he choose to spend that prestige, wealth and power?
God Serves Us
As Jesus and his friends enter this upper room where they were going to celebrate the Passover together, they are getting comfortable, taking off outer garments like we might take our coats off as we enter a house; and as the conversation begins to pick up and the din of the room begins to rise, you can almost sense a palpable nervousness because whoever owned the house hadn’t arranged for someone to wash the feet.
The disciples eyes shot from one to the other with the look on their faces that silently ask the question, “Who is going to wash the feet here?” You know Peter, James and John had a look on their faces that said, “We are Jesus’ closest friends so clearly we out rank everyone else and we’re not washing anything.”
All of the disciples are reluctant to do this lowly task because to wash the feet of anyone was to admit that you were the least important person in the room.
The nervous conversation grinds to an awkward halt as Jesus, the teacher, the king, rises from his place at the head of the table strips down to his under clothing, picks up a towel and a basin and begins, one foot at a time, to scrub clean the dirty feet of his slack-jawed disciples.
Jesus would have moved slowly around the oval table, washing the feet of Nathaniel, then Andrew, then Thomas, then Philip, then James and John as all of them sit in red-faced silence.
And at some point Jesus takes in his hand the dirty feet of Judas and locked eyes with this man who had witnessed so much of the kingdom in the last three years, knowing that the next time they lock eyes would be when Judas would betray his friend, teacher and Lord with a kiss.
When we see what is happening here we can only tremble. But if we gaze longer at this scene we see something more than the stunning surprise of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. Because if you sit with this scene you get the sense that it doubles as a parable of how God humbled himself to condescend into humanity—the incarnation.
Jesus is the living creator of the cosmos and he is willing to stoop all the way down into human life, is willing to humiliate himself to become one of us, is willing to assume our life so that he can heal our lives. God stooped all the way down into human life and then all the way down into suffering and death to restore us with his life.
Jesus cleanses and refreshes us by absorbing our filth and brokenness on the cross so that he can restore us to God. He is a God who serves. It requires a certain amount of humility to receive this from the Lord of the Universe. Peter’s problem was that he was too proud to admit that he needed a washing.
One of the first things we have to do in the With-God life is to learn to receive. Our faith isn’t first and mainly projects, activities, and plans—but receiving. Receiving with empty hands God’s cleansing work on our behalf is the first and main thing about being a Christian.
As a follower of Jesus for 50 years I can testify that this is one of the very first things that we forget. We forget that the journey of following Jesus is not about doing more or being better so that we need less grace from God, rather it is the journey of receiving, digesting, and metabolizing more of God’s grace into our lives so that He has access to more of our lives.
Peter eventually learned this lesson of humbling receiving:
Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time… 1 Peter 5:5-6
Makes you wonder if, when he wrote “mighty hand of God,” he thought of a calloused carpenter’s hands from Galilee that held his dirty feet many years before where he learned the most important lesson of his life…
Receiving is the first and the main thing in following Jesus.