William Barclay titled this text, “The Royalty of Service.” Derek Geldart entitled it “Love on its knees.” Kerry Haynes called it “Bottom-Up Leadership.” And it’s often been cited as a narrative that identifies “The Heart of a Servant.”
I simply call this poignant passage, that only John records, “Jesus’ Model for Ministry.”
On the evening before Jesus went to the cross, He observed the Passover meal and instituted what we call “The Lord’s Supper.” John says Jesus knew his hour had come. That He came from God. And was returning to the Father.
Sadly, the disciples according to Luke’s account were arguing over who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom.
Jesus took off his outer garment, girded Himself with a towel, poured water in a basin and proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet.
Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper showing the disciples sitting at the long, rectangular table are probably incorrect. More likely, they were reclining on cushions over a table a few inches off the floor. Their feet would have been exposed.
Since the common folks wore sandals and the roads were either inches deep in dust in the dry weather or muddy in wet weather, it was customary to wash a guest’s feet when they entered your house. This would have been the duty of a lowly servant.
However, the disciple neither secured a servant to wash feet nor were they attentive to that need since they were more concerned about who was going to be the greatest.
Jesus’ action spoke volumes about his attitude and modeled his many messages about service. Here are three.
#1 The road to greatness is through service.
“Jesus said, “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.”
Today, our culture has it all wrong. People think the greatest is achieved through the accumulation of wealth, the accomplishment of a seemingly impossible task, or the accolades accorded to those in positions of power. Yet, Jesus measured and modeled greatness by service. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed this way. “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.
#2 We lead by serving.
When Jesus concluded washing the disciples’ feet, he asked, “Do you know what I have done to you?
Then He told them. “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.”
Leadership is not about titles. It’s not bossing people around. Or flaunting one’s position. The Rotarian model is a good one to emulate, “Service above Self.” That’s what Jesus did. And what he calls us to do.
Shepherds in the Lord’s church could learn a good lesson from the Savior here. People follow when you lead. John Maxwell is fond of saying, “He who thinketh he’s leading and has no one following, is only taking a walk.”
Every leader ought to ask, “Am I a servant-leader?” “Am I following Jesus’ model?”
#3 Humility is a Divine virtue.
Jesus didn’t act humble. He was humble. While he humbled himself to the humiliating death on the cross, we see here one example of the many ways Jesus exhibited his humility in service.”
In case we missed it, Jesus plainly tells us.
“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.”
Humble service may take the form of participating in workdays with your church family. Meeting the often time menial needs within your physical family. And volunteering to help in your community.
Finally, the real virtue is not in knowing this narrative, it’s in practicing it. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman