Today is Maundy Thursday. Is the first day of a 3 day celebration for Christians. This period is where one remembers the last supper, the crucifixion and the death of Jesus, and the Resurrection to new life.
Maundy Thursday remembers the last supper Jesus had with his friends before going to the cross. As I was reading through this story today, I was really challenged by how Jesus humbled himself as he submissively loved his friends despite knowing in 24 hours he would be dead.
Walking in sandals on the filthy roads of Israel in the first century made it imperative that feet be washed before a communal meal which was usually done by a servant. For some reason this didn’t happen, meaning they ate with dirty feet. This would bad enough for us but it would be even worse in that culture because of how they ate. They would have eaten at a table called a triclinium, a low U-shaped table which they sat around on pillows meaning their dirty feet would have been next to what they were eating.
So Jesus gets up and starts the preparation to wash their feet. This was unthinkable, how could their teacher and master wash their feet? Why didn’t one of the disciples do it?
Jesus shows us what genuine humility looks like in three different ways; physically, socially and mentally.
Jesus didn’t do things by halves. He could have easily have got the servants to prepare the washing bowl, then just splash a bit of water over his disciple’s feet. He still would have been considered a humble servant. Instead he gave himself completely to the disciples First, so he got up from the meal. Then he 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, before drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. This was an extreme case of loving service. He didn’t do to create or preserve an image, he did it out of genuine loving service.
Which brings me on nicely to my next point.
The disciples had recently been arguing about who was the greatest (Luke 22) whilst all of them would have happily washed Jesus’ feet, they couldn’t without being willing to wash everyone else’s. Doing so would mean they would be admitting an inferiority to their fellow disciples something they couldn’t have done as they were trying to be compete for the top positions! But Jesus didn’t care about position. He says in Mark 10 “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
If there is one person who had the right to lord over leadership and greatness over people it was Jesus but he never did. In Jesus’ kingdom, status, money, popularity are not the prerequisites for greatness. Humble and loving service is the greatest (and only) prerequisite, as displayed by Jesus’ own ministry. Genuine service is ALWAYS done for the benefit of those ministered to, not for the benefit of the leader.
What struck me most when reading this is what Jesus was thinking about that evening. Jesus, on the evening before his crucifixion, instead of thinking of himself, he thinks of his disciples. How crazy is that?!
If I knew I was going to be sent for, be brutally tortured physically, emotionally and spiritually before dying a most painful death- I’d be so wrapped up in myself, I probably wouldn’t even notice if the disciples were there or not. Yet we see Jesus thinking of his disciples, loving and serving them until the end. This is the kind of humility in which we should be living by. C.S Lewis famously wrote “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”. Jesus demonstrated this perfectly; he knew exactly who he was (John 13:13) and made no apologies for claiming to be God yet in the most critical point of his life, he was not thinking of himself but the very people who would betray and forsake him.
What then must learn about Jesus’ act of humility? Jesus plainly tells us “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14).
Does that mean you should take a bowl of water and towel everywhere you go? No. Jesus instituted the foot-washing ceremony to illustrate that He had come to serve mankind. one must be careful. It can be easy to try to fulfill this with foot washing ceremonies. If done with a genuine’ servant heart then it can be a blessing. But if you wash someone’s feet and then turn around and gossip about them you have not served them. Jesus doesn’t tell us to have an annual foot washing ceremony but instead tells us to ‘wash the feet’ or lovingly and humbly serve our brothers and sisters all our lives regardless of where they come from, what their profession is, what their gender is, how much money they have or how many connections they have. No follower of Jesus is to set themselves above the service of any other human.