We are altogether too impressed with ourselves. Dignity is something we hold dear; we stroke it and care for it until it grows into a monster. The idea of lowering ourselves to make another greater is a foreign idea, and it makes us uncomfortable. We are not willing to kill our dignity in service to a brother or sister. We are far too unlike Christ.
Feet have always been one of the uglier parts of the body in my mind. They’re dirty, calloused, shaped oddly. As ugly and untouchable as feet may seem to be in my brain, in the days of Jesus, they were far more dirty, calloused and, frankly, terrible smelling. After all, what do you expect when sandals are your footwear of choice and walking is your way of travel? In the culture then, it was customary to have a servant or someone of low standing wash the feet of the guests whose feet were dirty after travel. It was an extremely undignified job, and no one desired to lower themselves to do it.
On the night of the Passover celebration, the night when Jesus took his last meal with his disciples, the group met together in an upper room. No one was provided to wash their feet, and not one of them decided to take it upon themselves to do so. Washing feet was above them.
Jesus is the master of opportunities, and he noticed every detail. He quietly witnessed not one of his friends and followers lowering themselves to serve the others-not even to serve their Lord. So, it says in John 13:4-5,
“…so he got up from the meal, 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, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
Jesus, the one who would be murdered to save humanity, the one who has the power to move mountains, command angel armies, and walk on water; THIS Jesus took it upon himself to wash the dirty, disgusting feet of his followers. Philippians 2:7 says, “…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Over and over again, Jesus made himself nothing for them, for us.
I wish I could have seen the shock on the disciple’s faces. I’m sure they were all absolutely mortified, but none reacted so violently as Peter. Verses 6-8 say,
“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’”
You see, I think I’m more frequently like Peter than I am like Jesus. Not only did Peter not lower himself to serve his fellow disciples, but he harshly protested to Jesus lowering himself and doing it as well. Peter would go on to protect himself by denying association with Jesus as he was on trial.
Peter was well known for one of the things I struggle with the most: his pride. Pride is defined as, ‘a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people; a feeling that you are more important or better than other people’. In reverse, humility is defined as ‘a modest or low view of one’s own importance’.
Being called to follow after Christ requires us to lay down our sense of dignity, our sense of owed respect. It requires us to be humble, and to be willing to do exactly what Jesus did. He took on the lowest of the low tasks, the most unworthy of things-why should we view ourselves any higher than our Lord and expect to do otherwise?
See, in that space around the table, every one of the disciples, especially Peter, gained an opportunity to become more like their Lord. Yet, they decided to pass it by. If we think we are any better than the disciples in this moment, how many opportunities to serve our fellow humans do we pass by in order to protect our dignity, our pride?
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end with the disciples failing to draw closer to Christlikeness. They were given opportunity after opportunity in the years that came. We are not simply bound to walk in our failures to serve; we constantly have a chance to redeem lost time and to humble ourselves to lift another up.
We are not called to service; if we are followers of Christ, we become servants. Serving is occasional acts, but an essential, deep rooted part of who we now are. Let us be the ones who wash feet, the ones who kill our dignity in order to lift others up. We will draw nearer to Christ every time we choose his glory and compassion over our pride.