Commentary by Walter Albritton


July 20, 2008


No Choice but to Become Servants if We Follow Christ


John 13:1-20


Key Verse: [Jesus said,] “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” – John 13:15    


Elton Trueblood, the Quaker philosopher, helped us affirm the truth that “Every Christian is a minister.” By “minister” he did not mean a preacher or a pastor. He meant that every disciple of Jesus is called to engage in the ministry of Christ. The work of Christ is far too great an assignment for ordained clergy alone. So all believers are Christ’s ministers in every facet of life.

We may expand our understanding of this concept by changing the word “minister” to “servant.” Every Christian is a servant of Christ. All believers are called to live in the world as servants of Christ. We can combine the two terms and say that every Christian is a ministering servant of Christ. In the New Testament Christians are expected to serve others in love; this is the ministry of love to which all are called by Christ.

In washing the dirty feet of his disciples, Jesus modeled the humble way he expects his followers to serve others. When he washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus got their attention. Peter was stunned, unwilling at first for Jesus to wash his feet. After Jesus explained what the washing meant, Peter was more than eager for the Master to wash his feet.

Clearly Jesus used the occasion to make a point. He even said that he was setting an example for the disciples. He knew they would not soon forget what he had done. Washing feet was dirty work usually done by slaves. The disciples could hardly believe their eyes when Jesus picked up the towel and basin and began “serving” them. In doing so he was their servant. And he was teaching them how he wanted them to live as his disciples.

If you have ever participated in a “foot-washing” service, you know how uncomfortable it is to have someone wash your feet. It is a truly humbling and deeply emotional experience. The Spirit often moves people to tears as sins are confessed amid cries for forgiveness and reconciliation.

I remember a time when a woman in our group knelt in front of her husband, and washing his feet gently, asked forgiveness for her rotten attitude. After she returned to her seat, her husband knelt before her, and washed her feet with water and his own tears. He asked her to forgive him for all the ways he had hurt her for many years.  Needless to say, we “had church” that night. To witness two people forgiving each other is truly to see God at work. That is what church is all about.

 Trueblood has called Mark 10:45 “the most revolutionary verse in the Bible.” It is revolutionary because most of us are “control freaks.” We want to be in charge; we want others to serve us. We think we know how everything should be done and we need no advice from others about how to run the ship. Unlike Jesus, we have come to be served. Humble servanthood is not our game.

Yet we have no choice if we desire to be authentic followers of Christ. Those who truly follow him are servants of others. They wash feet, pure and simple. Washing feet is not an optional course for believers. It is part of the core curriculum for kingdom dwellers. Other Christians we admire have taught us that. Is that not the primary lesson we have learned from the lives of Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa? Both of them knew how to wash feet. Both of them modeled humble servanthood for us.

There are many ways to “wash feet.”  Jim does it by doing the weekly grocery shopping for a home-bound neighbor. Ron does it by being available 24-7 to a friend who is recovering from drug addiction. Penny and Coralie do it by cooking and delivering meals for people who are home recovering from serious surgery. John does it by cutting the lawn for an injured neighbor who is no longer able to mow his own grass. Those who do it best find simple ways to share the love of Christ with their neighbors.

Each of us should look around us to see the persons whose feet we need to wash.  If we see no one whom we might humbly serve in the name of Christ, perhaps we need to ask Jesus to wash our feet. His “cleansing” could open our eyes to the opportunities we have daily to wash feet as humble servants of Christ. We make our Lord known by washing feet. And He is surely pleased when we follow the example he set for us.

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