Jesus and the disciples gather in the upper room to share together in the Passover Seder together. As they begin Jesus removes his clothes and wraps a towel around his waist. He fills a basin full of water and begins to wash each of the disciples feet and dry them with the towel he was wearing. When he comes to Peter he is stopped and told "You, Lord, will never wash my feet." Jesus replies "unless I wash your feet you have no place here with me" and peter relents. After washing each of their feet Jesus asks them if they understand what He has done for them. He explains "You call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am and if I, your Lord and teacher took the posture of a servant to wash your feet you should do this for one another" You see "No servant is greater than his master...and I am not too good to take the role of a servant for you" He continues "I have done this as an example for you and you should to as I have done."
Till this day we have repeated and remembered the supper that would follow. We celebrate it in churches all over the place. We rehearse and recall Jesus who took that Seder matzah, the unleavened bread of affliction (Duet 16:3), broke it and said "This is my body which is broken for you." We reflect also on the cup of wine which he took after dinner and said "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, it is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Drink it all of you." We celebrate this meal and remember his body that was broken for us as often as we gather to break bread together.It has become, for communities of followers of Jesus, a sacrament.
I love and cherish the table and mean no critique of this practice in the question that follows. My question, however is, what about the washing of feet? What about the master taking the form of a servant or slave and telling his disciple explicitly that it was an example that He wants them to follow? Have our communities echoed this part as faithfully as the other? Have we developed a habit and sacrament of wiping the filth of others onto ourselves? Have we stripped off the garments of lords and teachers and taken on the outfits and posture of lowly servants? Have we taught others to do the same? By our example?
As I ask these questions I cannot help but think of the attitude of Jesus that Paul called his followers to have in his letter to the Philippians. He wrote in chapter two verses 3-8:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God,did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothingby taking the very nature of a slave,being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man,he humbled himselfby becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Obedience started in humility and in taking on the form of a servant, then finally it ended, or was fulfilled, in His obedience to death. It seems that we still sometimes cry out to God about taking on the posture of a servant with the same cries that Jesus did about facing His execution:
Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
For those of us who would call ourselves disciples of Jesus this cup will not and should not be taken away but rather taken gladly as medicine. As we cry about serving the way he cried about dying may we finish our cries as he did, with the words of surrender:
Yet not as I will, but as you will.