In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. It’s a well-known story, a frequently referenced model for Christ’s attitude of humble service to others. But there’s another side to the story.
Foot-washing requires a foot to wash.
In the story, Peter initially refuses to allow his friend and teacher to perform such a menial, degrading task. Jesus replies that submission isn’t optional—it’s an essential element in the interaction.
I don’t think that’s an accident. You can’t force someone to receive an expression of intimacy. If it’s a true act of humble service, the one whose feet are washed must submit.
Accepting, allowing another to be blessed by serving, is itself an act of humility and love.
Jesus clearly shows that accepting and receiving are integral to authentic relationship. We demonstrate true humility by serving and by allowing others to serve.
The Hardest Part
We tend to celebrate the “humble servant,” but personally I think I mess it up. Most of the time, I serve because it makes me feel good. I retain control; I get to feel strong and wise and a tiny bit superior. My actions may benefit others, but my own motives usually aren’t quite so pure.
That’s why I resist asking for and accepting help. I don’t want to relinquish control, to admit that I can’t do it myself. And of course I usually do this badly as well; I let ‘em help if I must, but I make sure they know I don’t like it. My reluctant, grudging attitude robs others of joy.
It’s complicated, because Jesus is always about what’s in my heart. I serve, expecting to receive satisfaction in return. I receive, retaining a remnant of control through my un-generous spirit.
I know He sees the spiritual holes in my heart—thankfully, grace fills the voids.
As well as being an object lesson about worldly humility and service, Jesus’ tangible act of foot-washing symbolizes forgiveness. Jesus is clearly teaching us that we must forgive others as He has forgiven us.
But I think He’s also saying that we must be willing to accept forgiveness. And when you’ve messed up as much as I have, that’s much easier said than done.
That’s what new beginnings are all about.
We forgive, as best we can, even when it doesn’t feel good. We forgive as an expression of love and service, because it’s the attitude of the One we follow.
And we accept forgiveness. We don’t try to repay, because we can’t. We don’t try to justify, because we can’t. We accept a gift we don’t deserve as an expression of love and service.
It wasn’t easy for Jesus to humble Himself. It wasn’t easy for Peter to accept. Both required courage. They still do.
But that’s the model.
Where do you have the most difficulty serving or being served?