"He [Jesus] riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded." John 13:4-5 (KJV)
The example of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is often used as an example of servanthood. I was content with that explanation until recently. Now I see Jesus’ act as an expression of love for the disciples.
My mother is no longer able to bathe alone; I help her with a sponge bath each day. She washes what she can reach and I wash what she can’t. These days, that includes her feet. I place the little wash basin on the floor and she places her feet in the water, one at a time. I kneel beside her and first wash, then dry, each foot.
The first time she slipped a foot into the pan of warm water, she sighed with pleasure and said, “Oh, that feels so good.” I used the washcloth to let water run down her shin and calf, then wiped her leg, from knee to toes. Lifting her foot from the water, I dried it and repeated the process with the other foot. I found myself smiling at her delight.
And then it struck me: it gave me joy to wash her feet, because I loved giving her the pleasure of the warm water and massage of the washcloth and the resulting clean feet. Because I love her, I love to do things for her. I don’t mean to belittle all those theologians who use the basin and towel to demonstrate servanthood and its importance in the church. I just want to acknowledge the other part of the demonstration, the component that explains the first one – the love.
At the center of the servant heart is love. We serve those we love for their own sake. We serve those we love for God’s sake. Whether we wash their feet or donate money for their relief or serve food at their shelter or however else we may serve, we do it for love.
Father, thank you for sending us Your love in the form of Your Son. Help us to always reflect Your love in the service we perform, that we may always point others toward You.
© 2009 Mary Beth Magee