Jesus the Servant, Washing Dirty Feet (John 13:1-11)


I’m back! Sorry for disappearing, it’s been a hectic couple of months getting married and moving house. Things are starting to settle down a bit, so I’m hoping that the blog will return to some sort of regularity.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the moment Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It’s a powerful story, and one I’ve looked at before, but this time it’s the idea of servanthood that’s got me thinking.

I mean, look at Peter’s reaction – the guy’s horrified. In the absence of decent plumbing, Peter knows who should be in charge of washing feet and it sure as heck isn’t the most important person there. It’s the job of a servant, a functionary, a nobody. The Son of God shouldn’t be washing feet. You don’t wave your carbuncles in the face of the Messiah.

(Of course, while Peter doesn’t think Jesus should do the washing, he also doesn’t offer to do it himself. All those times Jesus got invited to meals as an honoured guest… Was Peter, as one of the core disciples, extended the same courtesy? Had he got used to getting his feet washed? Just speculating…)

Jesus insists, of course. He knows that his Kingdom doesn’t look like all the other kingdoms and empires and class systems out there. He knows that the power of God is most clearly seen through love and grace, not through thrones and crowns and conspicuous consumption. And yes, there’s a vital spiritual lesson there, but it’s a lesson with an intensely practical dimension to it.

The practice of foot-washing by church leaders has made a bit of a comeback over recent years, and it’s a powerful, humble thing to do. But there’s a real danger in making foot-washing into a ritual that happens on Maundy Thursday every year. There needs to be more to it than that, because if Jesus modelled servant leadership then that’s something we should be pursuing 24/7. What if foot-washing, despite its overtones of Jesus providing spiritual cleanliness, was an example not just a model?

See, Jesus did a lot of great and amazing things – he healed the sick, gave revolutionary teachings, he died and rose again. Jesus did all these things.

But what if the foot-washing was lived out every day? It’s not difficult to imagine Jesus helping to fix someone’s table, or doing the washing up.

That should reorientate us a little. Sure, it’s good and right to honour the work of ministers and worship leaders and preachers and teachers, but when we hear about the quiet old man who has put out the church bin bags every week for thirty years, or the ladies who show up every Saturday to clean the church toilets, maybe we’re seeing powerful examples of the servanthood of Christ being lived out among his followers.

Maybe every church leader should also be on the cleaning rota.

It’s not about doing good works, of course, it’s about fostering attitudes, attitudes of humility (because that’s the only appropriate stance before God), of service (because that’s what Jesus modelled), of love (because God is love). I don’t have enough of those attitudes in my life, and for all I can makes excuses – I’m too busy, I’m too tired, it should be someone else’s job – the fact is, it’s difficult to cultivate an attitude when you’re not putting yourself in a position to live it out.

Jesus stooped before the disciples and washed their feet.

How can I do any less?