John 13:12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you
The closer they got to Jerusalem the more it became apparent to the disciples that Jesus’ ministry was coming to a climax and something decisive was going to happen in relation to Jesus and the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem. So they started jockeying for position, asking and arguing about what position and status they should have in Jesus’ coming Kingdom. There was a lot of ill feeling and heated words following James and John’s mother attempt to persuade Jesus that her sons should be at the top of the pecking order when His Kingdom was fully established. She probably thought that would move her up the pecking order too and that as a family they could pick out a nice little palace in Jerusalem after Jesus had kicked the Romans and Herod out.
Its no surprise then that when there was no servant or woman on hand to wash their feet at the end of a long journey that none of these status conscious men was going to put themselves forward and offer to do the job and thereby automatically assign themselves to the bottom of the pack. They wanted to make sure that Jesus and everyone else knew they deserved to be at the top of the pecking order not its bottom. They must have been filled with a mixture or deep embarrassment when Jesus assumed the position at the bottom of the pecking order and washed their heat. That unease probably turned to discomfort when Jesus turned to them and said that his foot washing was not an action to recoil from in horror as demeaning but one which they were to follow as an example.
I think I get how Peter and the boys felt. I don’t have any problem when Jesus calls me to do something great and heroic for him to express the Kingdom of God, oh yeah and preferably public so I get a bit of kudos and move up that pecking order a few notches. For all their faults and failings probably eleven of the twelve disciples would have scaled the walls of Jerusalem and taken on the Roman garrison for Jesus, if he had asked them. Some great feat for the Kingdom of God and they were up for it but they recoiled when Jesus called them to something very mundane and more than slightly demeaning, washing feet.
Foot washing was the most mundane of jobs, the lowest servant did it, people who were nobodies washed other people’s feet and what’s more you didn’t get a round of applause after you had done it either. Foot washing was mundane and anonymous, it was unattractive, unnoticed, unrewarded and unrecognised and Jesus called His disciples to follow His example in serving others in just that way. Jesus called his followers to a ministry of the mundane, serving other people in ways which would go largely unnoticed, unrewarded and unrecognised. This wasn’t the kind of role in the Kingdom of God they had envisaged. They had expected success and significance, Jesus redefined success and significance in the Kingdom of God and said significance in His Kingdom came from servanthood in the mundane aspects of life.
Oh how I wish we had listened to Jesus. The Church so often wants to do “big” things for Him and the Kingdom of God, big evangelistic crusades, big flashy tv programmes, big impressive buildings with equally big impressive performances in them. Yet our attempts to big important things for the Kingdom of God usually impress no one but ourselves. I read a book recently about the growth of the early church in its first centuries before Constantine came to power, when the church was largely poor and powerless and its surrounding culture veered from being apathetic and antagonistic. The church couldn’t do “big” things for Jesus, if they had they would have ended up as an appetiser for a lion in all likelihood or the unarmed sparring partner for a gladiator. What these first generations of believers did was follow Jesus command to follow His example and have a ministry in the mundane. Largely unrecognised and certainly unrewarded they served people, they took in the sick other people through in the street, they brought up children abandoned by parents, they shared their food with the hungry, they probably washed feet. Yet these small acts of seemingly mundane servanthood had a huge impact. Significance and success in the Kingdom of God really did come from servanthood in the mundane aspects of life as people questioned the motivation of people who served for no reward and sought no recognition and found no task to mundane and demeaning for their Lord had washed feet when no one else was willing.
I used to think that the ineffectiveness of the Church in my culture would be turned around by some new programme, some new high profile initiative and of course I fantasised I would play a prominent role in leading it. Every time I read the story of Jesus’ washing the disciples feet I hear him saying to me, “go and do likewise” calling me to a ministry of servanthood in the mundane areas of life. Our culture will be impacted by what impacted the culture of the Roman world, ordinary Christians serving others in the ordinary everyday aspects of life because in our culture that in itself is extraordinary.
So don’t look for “big” things to do for Jesus, don’t look for reward or recognition, just look for simple mundane ways you can serve others, just as Jesus did and you’ll experience significance in the eyes of Christ and success in the realm of the Kingdom of God.