Ex 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Cor 11:23-26
We live in a hierarchical world. Somebody is on top, somebody is on the bottom, and never the twain shall meet. Look at the basic structure of a corporation. The CEO is not about to sweep the floor. The CEO would, most likely, think that beneath them. That’s the job of the person farther down, at or near the bottom of the hierarchy. Corporations function this way, but I’m not sure they always function best this way. I remember reading about an airline a few years back that was managing to make money, to do well, when other airlines were falling into bankruptcy. In the successful airline everyone was willing to do whatever was necessary to make things work. If the trash can needed to be emptied, the pilot would not hesitate to empty it. Everyone was working together to make things work, to be successful.
In Jesus’ time it was an important act of courtesy for a host to provide those coming into the home a way to wash their feet. They were, after all, a people that wore sandals if they wore shoes at all, walking on streets that were dirt. Coming into someone’s home with dirty feet would be unthinkable. So the host would provide a way for guests to wash their feet, saving both of them embarrassment. A servant, someone pretty far down the hierarchy, would be assigned the task of washing feet.
Jesus, the Rabbi, the Master, the Teacher, washed the feet of his disciples. In a culture that went primarily shoeless, in a place where the road was dirt, Jesus took on the role of the servant, doing the unthinkable. Peter objected, loudly, I’m sure, because it was unthinkable. This was a job for the lowest of the low, not the one called Rabbi. Jesus tells Peter that if he doesn’t allow him to wash his feet, Peter will have no inheritance with him. It wasn’t just that Peter would have no inheritance, more than that, Jesus wanted them to know that unless he washed their feet, unless he was willing to be a servant, He had no right to talk to them, and they should not listen to him. Jesus wanted them to see that one can be a servant without being subservient. Service isn’t a lowly pursuit, but the highest calling. It is only in service that we can truly lead. It is only in our willingness to be servant, to wash feet that we have the right to lead. One of the first things I learned years ago as a manager was never to ask someone to do something you were not willing to do yourself. Jesus was not asking his disciples, is not asking us, to be a servant without giving us the example first. Lead by serving. Imitate Jesus by being willing to wash feet.
April 5, 2007