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John 13:1-5, 12-17
Have you ever met a know-it-all? Maybe this person has gone to some very prestigious university and has all kinds of letters of the alphabet after their name and they let you know that they think they are a lot smarter than you could ever be. We don’t usually enjoy being around that kind of person. But not everyone with all kinds of degrees is a know-it-all. Take Jesus, for example. He knew a lot more than his disciples, yet he remained humble.
Did you hear some of the things John says he knew? He knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He knew the Devil had already put the idea into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him. He knew that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God. He knew that all of his disciples would forsake him that night. But did Jesus act like a know-it-all and brag to his disciples about the things he knew? No. He did just the opposite. Even though they were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, Jesus, who was the greatest, humbled himself.
What a surprise it must have been for the disciples when Jesus got up to wash their feet. In fact, it must have been embarrassing! None of them had thought of volunteering to wash feet before the Passover meal. But there was Jesus, their Lord and Master, wrapping a towel around his waist and washing all 24 feet, all 120 toes. And we know something they didn’t know at the time. He washed the feet of Judas, knowing full well that Judas was about to betray him, with a kiss, for just a few pieces of silver. Yet he washed his feet in the same tender way that he washed all the others.
How could Jesus do it? He could do it because of what he knew. He was secure in who he was, and he was devoted to his mission. Because of this it didn’t matter to him what anyone else thought. The only thing that mattered is what his heavenly father thought. It didn’t matter what the disciples thought he should or shouldn’t be doing. It only mattered that he was carrying out his mission. That’s what enabled Jesus to humble himself, to do the work of a servant and wash his disciples’ feet, even though he knew more than they did, even though he was their Lord and Master.
Did you ever notice that those who tend to brag the most, who want to lord it over others, are often the most insecure?
We don’t need to be insecure. Like Jesus, we know who we are and what our mission in life is. We know that we are each a redeemed child of God. It’s not something we brag about because we know that we did not become a child of God because of our own goodness or wisdom. God adopted us in spite of our lack of goodness and wisdom. If we ever have any doubt about whether or not we are a child of God all we have to do is remember our baptism and listen to God say to us, “I have put my name on you. I have redeemed you. You are mine.”
We know what our mission in life is. No matter what our earthly job might be, our calling from God is that we serve him in faith and our neighbor in love. Our mission is to do everything we do to his glory and to proclaim the Gospel to everyone.
Because we know who we are and what our mission is, we don’t have to be afraid of humbling ourselves. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, what matters is what our heavenly father thinks. It doesn’t matter what others think we should or shouldn’t do, what matters is that we are carrying out the mission our heavenly father has given us.
Think about how this attitude affects different areas of our lives as Christians. In the Christian family is there really anything that should be beneath you; anything that you are too proud to do? Are the dishes and cooking and cleaning “women’s work?” Are the banking, and lawn maintenance “men’s work?” What about changing diapers or watching the kids? Are we worried that someone might look down on us if we do something that is often expected to be done by others? Whose opinion matters? Do you have a cranky boss? Paul reminds us we are not really working for him. We are working for the Lord.
When Jesus wrapped the towel around himself and washed his disciples’ feet, he did something no one thought he, the teacher, the master, should be doing. But he did it gladly.
Knowing who you are and being focused on your mission in life helps you get over your sinful pride, and enables you just to be a humble servant in any way the situation calls for.
Jesus told his disciples, and us, that he was giving them an example. They were to learn to willingly wash each other’s feet, to serve each other in love. When they had argued earlier about which of them was the greatest, he had reminded them that in the kingdom of God the greatest is not the one who exerts the greatest power and control over others, but in the kingdom of God the greatest is the one who humbly and willingly servs others. Such a person shows that they know who they are and where they are going. They know that having power and control in this world isn’t something that will last. But our sinful nature always wants to twist things. So, Jesus also gives a warning about humble service.
We are not to consider humble service as a badge of honor. We are not to brag about how humble we are, or about what we do to serve others. We don’t earn ourselves a top spot in God’s kingdom by trying to be more humble than others, or by taking a vow of poverty and entering a monastery.
Jesus reminds his disciples, and us that, no matter how devoted we are to humble service, A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. We will always need to remember that he is our master. He is the one who sent them and who sends us. No matter how many good things they would do, and they would do many good things—they would even do miracles in his name and cast out demons, and proclaim the Gospel to thousands- they would not be greater than he was. They would still be sinners who needed him as their savior, just like us.
As Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, we see his hands of humility. We see his willingness to serve. As his hands take the bread and break it, as his hands bless the cup of wine and he gives it to his disciples knowing that they are about to forsake him, we see his willingness to serve. We hear him say, “this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” This new covenant in my blood will strengthen you. When you realize that you have given in to pride, to the idea of the world that says greatness is having more knowledge or power or money than others and lording it over others, and you confess that sin, this new covenant in my blood will assure you of your forgiveness. It will remind you that you are a child of God by grace. It will remind you of your mission to proclaim my death until I come again in glory. This assurance will then strengthen you as strive to humbly serve each other in love.
Knowing that Jesus humbled himself even to the point of enduring the pain and embarrassment of crucifixion for us enables us to realize that no task for him or our neighbor is beneath us. If it’s washing feet, changing diapers, the lowest kind of menial labor, we are not too proud to do anything because we know that God has made us his dear children. We are happy to humble ourselves in order to serve him in faith and our neighbor in love as we look forward to the exaltation that awaits us in heaven.