Washing Dirty Feet

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is found in John 13, where Jesus gathers with His disciples to observe the Passover on the night before His betrayal and crucifixion. Jesus knew what the next day held, but He used this opportunity to serve the disciples, as well as teach them the importance of serving others.

When guests entered your home, it was custom for the host to make someone washed the guests’ feet. Since it was the most demeaning task of the day, it was done by the lowest of slaves. Jesus had instructed Peter and John to prepare the meal, which they did. The table was set, and I am sure that these two close followers of Jesus thought that Jesus made sure someone was present to wash the feet of the guests. Since this was not done when they entered, I am sure that by the time they reclined at the table that the disciples were starting to feel uncomfortable. “Somebody ought to at least wash Jesus’ feet,” maybe one thought. “Maybe if I wait, someone else will do it.”

Jesus got up from the meal, removed his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured water into a basin, and started to wash the disciples’ feet. The fact that no one spoke up during these preparations is proof of the pride that was in the room that night. The disciples would later argue about who was the greatest in the kingdom, then Peter would make his declaration (which the others agreed) that he would follow Jesus to death. Each of the men gathered in the upper room that evening were so full of themselves that serving others was far from their minds.

Fast forward 2,000 years and the upper room is a picture of the local church. We gather and celebrate our accomplishments but refuse to serve. We come together for our Bible studies and wait for someone to meet our needs. We hear of needs within and outside of the church, only to think “somebody besides me can do that.” Pastors like to fuss about this, but what do we expect when we sit in an office focused on a computer screen, rather than getting outside the church and meeting needs?

I will be forever grateful to Dr. Ken Gore, Chair of the Department of Christian Ministries at Williams Baptist College, for assigning his Supervised Ministry class the Bible study Jesus on Leadership. Supervised Ministry is the final class for all students in the Department of Christian Ministries, and it was during this class that I was called to my first pastorate. Prior to this call, I completed Jesus on Leadership, and it changed the way I ministered and has probably kept me from being fired. Jesus on Leadership focused upon the servanthood of Jesus, most notably the account about which I am writing. I was a student athletic trainer in high school and college and had wrapped many ankles during that time, so I knew that feet were nasty! Yet, Jesus calls us to such service, meeting the needs around us, regardless of the level of attraction.

Prior to completing Jesus on Leadership, I allowed my Type-A personality to drive my ministry. I believed that I would lead by telling people what to do, and I was ignorant enough to think they would respond to my “leadership.” It worked in youth ministry because teenagers were accustomed to being told what to do, but I realize now that without this revelation about servant leadership, I would never survive ministry.

God’s children are called to serve. I think that one of the reasons service is reduced is due to parents. Rather than teaching our children to serve, we give them all that they want. If parents do not model and teach servanthood to their children, we will continue to produce generations that focus on their own needs and neglect the needs of others. While not all our children will be ministers, some will be deacons, others will be Sunday School teachers, and still others will faithfully serve behind the scenes without any title or recognition. Parents can impact future generations and the health of the Church by modeling and teaching their children to serve.

As we celebrated Easter this past weekend, I pray that it reminded us that Jesus served by leaving the comfort of Heaven to face the cruelty of the Cross. Throughout His ministry, including some of the final hours before His death, Jesus taught that His followers were to serve, where to wash feet.

May the Lord open our eyes to dirty feet and give us a heart to wash them.

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