In the book of John, we read that Jesus – at the last Passover meal that He would eat with His disciples before His crucifixion – humbly set an example for his disciples by washing their feet:
Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
John 13:5 NASB
In that day, before tennis shoes and paved sidewalks, this was a pretty big deal. Feet would be dirty and gross, and the process of washing them was typically left to a servant, as an act of the host’s hospitality. (Imagine the conversation in the servant’s quarters ahead of a major event – maybe drawing straws to see who had foot-washing duty that night?)
Some Christians practice foot-washing regularly. I’m sure that it is a humbling experience for both parties, but the fact is, we wear shoes now and – for many people in this world – getting our feet washed isn’t part of our normal culture. (I’m certainly not dismissing the impact of this practice today – there is much to be learned by this. However, Jesus didn’t wash pedicured, recently-cleaned feet, which had been protected by both shoes and socks – and maybe a pair of odor-eater insoles. As a result, I don’t believe that we can experience the exact same thing in our culture as the disciples did, but we can still learn much from it.)
Still, Jesus made it clear that He didn’t just do this to make a point; He did this as an example to be followed:
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
John 13:12-15 NASB
So, if washing others’ feet isn’t part of our daily routine in the same way as it was these first-century disciples, what humble service may we be called to do – emulating Jesus’ example – instead? What activities are normally left to specific classes of society, and are considered “beneath” others, but yet might be something we’re called to do?
For one thing, there are the caregivers. Parents bathe their young children, no matter what they may have gotten themselves into. Others care for family members who aren’t able to tend to themselves, whether because of illness, special needs, or the toll of age. Yet others care for those who aren’t related to them, working in home care, hospices, or assisted living facilities.
There are also the people who work behind the scenes, so that others can enjoy a “civilized” life. The hard worker who vacuums the carpets of a church may never get a place in the Sunday bulletin. Christians take communion on a regular basis without knowing who prepared it. A clean bathroom in a church can make a positive impact on a visitor, but the process of keeping a bathroom clean isn’t elegant.
And, there are those who leave comfortable houses, cities, and even countries, going to where the water isn’t always clean (or where there isn’t even indoor plumbing) to spread the news of Jesus. Entire families have uprooted from relatives and friends, to go to a place where they may not yet speak the language, and where cultural traditions are foreign to them, because the souls in this new land are loved – both by these messengers, and by God – enough to receive the message of salvation.
With examples like this in perspective, other challenges may seem less significant. However, it can still be difficult to go into environments that we’re not comfortable (whether due to concerns about personal safety, or just social norms), in order to serve others. Sometimes, just talking to a certain person (when we get that holy nudge to do so) is enough to humble us and impact others’ view of us.
Whatever it might look like, what humble service are you and I each called to today? May we be willing to set aside pride and decorum, and maybe even be willing to become a little embarrassed, in order to follow the perfect example of Jesus.