The Servant of All

Luke 9:46—And an argument arose among them [the disciples] about who among them was the greatest.

Oh, what a common struggle. We may not argue in words as the disciples did, but we most certainly do in our actions. I think often the real question, the real problem for us is who is the least among us. We may accept that we will not be the greatest; but to be the least? Certainly not! I can accept being someone in the middle of the “pecking order.” But to be last? It is the most lonesome, empty place to be. The child who is last to be picked for games in the school yard. The athlete who crosses the finish line behind everyone else. The team that goes 0 and 16 for the season. No one wants to be last.  Last is for losers.

Then Jesus comes, wrapping a towel around his waste, and stooping to wash the caked mud off our feet. The job of the least. And Jesus takes it. The lowliest servant in the household is initiated by this menial task. It is the most demeaning and humiliating chore. And yet Jesus receives this position as a mantle of honor. With a grace inexplicable, Jesus enters into our midst, and knowing that he is indeed the greatest, he bows before the man he has made from dust, washing the earth from man’s feet. Jesus, with a dignity ironic to the task, kneels, and gently massages the callouses, his hands strong, and sure, his head bowed over the task.

But I am Peter. Shocked at such an awkward display of love, I jerk my feet back from his reaching hand. I would not be the least. But I cannot stand to see my Lord in that place. I cannot let him bow before me! I know it is wrong! I am cut with shame, and I bleed resentment. “No Lord!” I cry out. “May it never be! How could I let you wash my feet?”

His eyes meet mine with tender humor. As if calling him Lord will restore his rightful place. As if sparing him my dirty feet, will right the wrong. His rebuke is firm, yet spoken with a kindness that draws pinprick tears to the corners of my eyes. “Child, holding back this one thing from me, you deny me all.” And I crumble, suddenly longing to be bathed head to toe in Him. Sure that I want nothing more than to receive His cleansing hands. Sure that love has never beckoned me with such power. Sure that I will never be the same.

Laying aside the towel as the task is finished, Jesus states the obvious. “I have just set an example for you; just what I did, you should do for one another.” I can hear his previous teaching echoing in my ears: “If anyone wants to be first he must be last of all, and a servant to all.” That is what he is. That is what he has done.  He has made foot washing beautiful. Now he wants to do that through me, if I will only let him.

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