The foot-washing God

In Latin America, Pastors of large thriving churches–and even small ones–are often referred to, and refer to themselves as “el siervo” or the servant. Some exhibit those traits but others do not in anyway act like servants!

Yesterday we were thinking about how God is a loving and serving God in the “intra-trinitarian” relationships. John 13:1-17, however, takes this to a whole other level. Jesus knows that he will soon be killed and so he shows the disciples how much he loves them and is committed to them. He washes their feet.

This is not what one would have expected in the light of verse 3. All things had been put under his power, he had come from the Father and was going to the Father, therefore…you’d expect some sort of demonstration of that power, a demonstration of his origins or a demonstration of his destiny, but no, he washes their feet. Jesus demonstrates his power, his origins and his destiny by serving. Wow!

Now, the role of washing the dust and dirt off the feet of any guest, not only was it not a pleasant job–although I don’t think back then they were a squeamish as we are now–it would have normally been the job of the lowest slave in the household. Jesus is demonstrating the radical nature of his revolution of love. The master and lord of this group of people is taking the role of a slave. So this God, who we have committed our lives to, is not only a servant God, he is a God who loves his disciples enough to serve them as a slave.

The little interaction between Jesus and Peter is incredible. Peter, in his normal heroic way, tells Jesus that he can’t wash his feet. This inverted pride of Peter is rebuked by Jesus. In doing this Jesus says a very surprising thing. Verse 8 Jesus tells Peter, “unless I wash you, you have no part with me”. What Jesus is actually saying beggars belief, “unless you allow me to serve you, you have no part with me”. We need the humility to allow the King of kings to serve us. So paraphrasing John F. Kennedy, “ask not what you can do for God, but what God has done for you”.

Verses 12-16 tell us then what all this means. I am guessing that the answer to Jesus’ question, “do you understand what I have done for you” would probably have been an unqualified, “Ummm”. He spells it out. He shows them the true quality of greatness and status. “Yes I am your master but in being your master I serve you to a most radical extent”. This is an example to the disciples. To be a master and lord is to serve even in the most menial tasks.

The final verse finishes with yet another stunning truth: blessing is found in service. Blessing is not found in status, power, wealth, respect or any other thing that the world sees as a blessing. Blessing is found in serving in the most menial of tasks. This service is not heroic but it does bring blessing.