“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them'” (John 13:12-17 ESV).
Many churches who have a Maundy Thursday service include a “ceremonial foot washing, in imitation of Christ’s washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:5-11)” (Grissom, HIBD, p. 775). I had a professor a few years ago who was adamant that foot washing was the believer’s baptism and should be practiced along with communion.
Regardless of one’s thoughts and feelings on washing feet, what strikes me is Jesus’s servant leadership. Repeatedly Jesus says, ” [He] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). The Apostle Paul describes Jesus’s mind and attitude stating, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8 NLT).
There are consequences for failing to practice servant leadership. After Solomon died, Jeroboam and other men from Israel came to speak to Rehoboam about lightening the heavy load and taxes that Solomon demanded (1 Kings 12:1-4). Rehoboam rejected the wise counsel from the older men that if he serves the people, they will serve him and always be his loyal subjects. (12:7). Instead, Rehoboam listens to the counsel of his young men who advise that he treats the people harshly (12:8). Rehoboam and his young advisers’ “theory is that servant leadership will not work. Only a bully can handle a diverse kingdom. As Nelson observes, ‘Rehoboam chooses slogans over wisdom, machismo over servanthood’” (House, 1, 2 Kings, 1995, p. 182). The consequence of Rehoboam’s ruling was that his authority was rejected and the nation divided (12:16-20).
Idolatry is insidious, whenever a Christian leader rejects servant leadership they are headed toward idolatry and so are their followers. It is my heartfelt prayer that we do not forget that Jesus’s walk equaled His talk. Christ exemplified servant leadership and His people should follow and lead in the same manner. As Christ obeyed the Father, so we should obey Christ. When we practice serving with humility, Jesus’s “new commandment” will be lived out. We will be known for our love for God and others.
Triune God, may we follow You and not idols! May we follow Jesus’s example regardless of the cost. Lord, may we place Your will and glory above all forms of pride and selfish ambition. Thank You Jesus for Your example! Father God as we reflect on the Crucifixion and celebrate Jesus’s Resurrection, may we respond by living in greater devotion and service to You and to each other. In Jesus’s Name I pray, Amen.