When I was young, sometimes in jest, I would say something outrageous to get a reaction from my mom, Jennie. Most often, after giving me a very shocked look she would wag her finger and tell me not to say things like that because that was bragging. She wanted her children to be humble at heart and with her quiet beauty and strength she epitomized the message that Jesus was showing his disciples about being a servant. He was clear as he offered; “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13: 12b-16). Jennie lived her life willing to give love and help anyone she met. In our family, there was always room at the dinner table for a visitor or there was plenty of floor space if someone needed a bed.
This text has been a challenge for me even though it is my belief that the grace offered by Christ is the same grace we are to give others. Because of life experiences, I have struggled to rise above the restraints of abuse and be free to live unburdened by the chains of self-doubt. Thinking about being a servant, on my knees, is a very uncomfortable place for me. I truly want to be the hands and feet of Christ and follow his example to serve as he served. It is easy to understand how seeing Jesus at their feet, had to be a humbling experience for his disciples. Peter was so shocked that he told Jesus that he would never wash his feet. I can see myself in Peter. My instinct would be to tell Jesus to please get up from the dirty floor and let me clean my own feet. I don’t want to see Jesus humbled and on his knees. I have always imagined humility as weakness and vulnerability. But Jesus doesn’t see it that way as he responded to Peter by saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me,” in other words unless Peter and I humble ourselves to serve others, and let me add, to be vulnerable, we cannot be servant as Christ was.
What the disciples continued to learn was that Jesus was different that any other religious leader. He came to serve and not to be served. He healed the sick in body, mind and spirit; he loved children and showed them they mattered; he listened to the weak and offered living water to the thirsty, and he fed thousands because they were hungry. He did all of this with great love and care unlike anyone the people had ever known. Being on his knees and washing feet did not make him weak but showed us all how we are to treat the least among us. Being a humble servant does not mean we are weak. Jesus was still Jesus when he stood up. He was God’s Son, a teacher and a leader and soon he would die on a cross as a Savior so that we might live. My mom loved Jesus and modeled his message of love and humility. She was strong when we were weak, she was humble yet proud and she gave me love even when she was shocked by my behavior. She followed in the footsteps of her Jesus and went to her knees to wash the feet of many. Yes Jesus, please wash, “not my feet only, but also my hands and head” (Jn 13:9).