The Greatness of Humility - A Reflection on John 13:1-15
Today is Holy Thursday, where we commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with his apostles. It is a very eventful day where many things of significance took place, one of them being Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Foot-washing was a common practice in those days, where travelers would walk on dusty or muddy roads, getting their feet dirty. To ensure their feet were clean when they entered the house, most homes had a container of water, along with a towel, kept outside the doorway. A servant would usually be at hand to perform this very menial and lowly task.
Now, although the details are not provided in Scripture, it isn’t hard to imagine what might have happened when Jesus and his disciples arrived at the room for supper. The landlord would have provided the basin, water, and towel needed for the washing of feet, but because there was no servant present to do the needful, the dinner party would have gone straight to the table to eat, undoubtedly feeling very awkward to take on a “servant’s” role. So Jesus gets up from the table to do what his apostles believed was below their dignity to do, using it to teach them an important lesson.
The lesson, of course, was humility. Paul puts it beautifully when he writes about Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). And when Jesus was done washing the feet of his apostles like a servant, he said, “Do you know what I have done? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
Hundreds of feet are going to be washed all over the world today. Thousands of sermons will be preached on the subject of foot washing. I am sure it will all be very moving. However, I can’t help but wonder how many of those doing the washing, or watching the re-enactment of Jesus’ great display of servitude, or listening to homilies on the event are moved to becoming humble people.
It isn’t easy to bow before another man, much less stoop low enough to wash his feet, because we are - let’s admit it - prideful people. We find it hard to bow down to another person’s opinion; how are we to indulge in an act of subservience? By telling ourselves that if the Son of God could kneel before man, we can too. Pope Francis showed he understood when he kissed the feet of South Sudan's previously warring leaders last week urging them to keep peace.
Let us follow in his footsteps.