The Passover meal had been prepared and Jesus was in the upper room with his disciples. Just prior to the meal Jesus rose from the table, removed his robe, took a basin of water and began to wash his disciples’ feet. He explained that what he had done was what they should do for one another. It was by taking the role of a servant that they would enjoy the blessing of God (John 13:1-20).
By this one act (recorded only in John) Jesus established forever the basic principle of Christian conduct, that is, serve the other. Contrary to our nature as fallen human beings, we are to take the role of servant in all our relations with one another. That’s it! Were we to carry out this one fundamental principle everything would be changed dramatically. Imagine a local congregation where each member adopted as their basic rule for living the simple question, “How may I be of help to you?”
Impossible, you say. Probably, but isn’t that the nature of ethical norms? I remember doing an article on the Sermon on the Mount and learning the various ways that Christian thinkers have tried to explain the unattainable level of conduct it recommends. One answer is that it isn’t relevant to our current situation because it was intended for the “Kingdom age.” Another is that the high ethical standards intend to make us feel guilty so that in desperation we will turn to God pleading his mercy. My conclusion was that “impossible goals” were not meant to discourage us but to continually hold before us the perfect example as a continuing guide for living.
What would it be like to always take the servant’s role? In almost every situation in life there is the opportunity of serving the other. The servant steps aside when he and someone else arrive simultaneously at the same door. The servant with more than he needs responds to the one in need. The servant puts the best interpretation on a story that could make the other look bad. The servant husband begins his day asking how he can make his wife’s day more enjoyable. I doubt if there is a single moment in the day when it isn’t possible to serve someone else. Even if a person is alone on a desert island, it is always possible to pray.
So, as Jesus arose from the table and took upon himself the lowly task of a servant, you and I can get up from our comfortable seat of self-centeredness and find some “feet” that need washing.