PFOA : John 13:1-17
“Dinner’s ready!” the two disciples told Jesus (Mark 14:16), so Jesus and the twelve went to the upstairs guest room and settled comfortably on cushions around the low table. Lately, some of the things Jesus talked about were troubling them. Jesus spoke to them about the destruction of the temple, the tribulation of the end times and about the kingdom of heaven. And he told them that “the Son of Man will be delivered to be crucified? (Matt 26:1).
Jesus himself was also quieter. Finally he got up, took off his cloak, wound a clean towel round his waist, got a basin of water and began to wash one of the disciple’s feet, drying them with the towel. Then he moved to the next disciple and did the same. The disciples were too taken aback to say anything. Only when it got to Peter’s turn that he spoke, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (John 13:6). He realised the incongruity. Here is one whom he called Lord, coming with water and towel to wash and dry his feet. After further explanation by Jesus, his feet were washed and Jesus continued to the next disciple until all twelve disciples had their feet washed.
There followed an embarrassing silence as the disciple watched Jesus threw the dirty water away, dried himself, and put on his cloak again. Then he walked back to take his place at the table. With all eyes on him, he finally broke the silence and asked, “Do you understand what I have done to you?” (v. 12).
Some of us like to use quotations when making a point. One quote we sometimes hear is “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”. This has been wrongly attributed to Francis of Assisi who certainly believes in the necessity of proclaiming the Gospel. This quote unnecessarily dichotomises or splits the doing from the saying. In this instance, we see Jesus, after setting an example, asked the question, “Do you understand?” and then went on to explain the significance of what he did.
Much has been said about the “Incarnational” model of evangelism and teaching. The idea is that our lives and actions speak louder than what we say. But we may model our lives well according to the Scriptures, and our acts of ministry are well received, these acts still have to be explained, as Jesus has shown. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom 10:14). Our witness to the Gospel has to be by both word and deed. Let’s pray for one another that out lives, actions and words will be always consistent with the truth of the Gospel.
Jesus went on to explain this act of washing his disciples’ feet. Much of the scriptural support for the practice of “servant leadership” comes from this passage. One aspect we seem to have missed, certainly in practice if not in theory is that of humility. Jesus took on the task of the lowest of the low among servants. It was a dirty job, and involved kneeling before the person, removing his dusty or muddy sandals, and washing his feet. It was a thankless job, as visitors to the home expected it. In contrast to today, everyone talks about serving. High government officials are called public servants. Company CEOs serve their customers. Jesus humbled himself to serve even those who would betray him and put him to death (Phil 2:8). Let us serve one another with humility.