An Example To Follow
You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right in doing so, for that is who I am. So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet as well. For I gave you [this as] an example, so that you should do [in turn] as I did to you.
The disciples could sense that this night was different. The whole week had been intense. It began with the crowds shouting and waving palm branches as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, but the days since had been a checkerboard of arguments, miracles, debates, and challenges. Now, on the night of Passover, they gathered in a room to be together. Jesus had told them He would be arrested and killed. Would it happen soon?
In the thick air of anticipation, Jesus did something totally bizarre. He ceremoniously washed each of the men’s feet. They watched in amazement as He went from one disciple to the next. When He was finished, He sat down and explained that He has done this as an example for them to follow after He was gone. Washing their feet was a simple act of service, usually performed by the lowest-ranking servant in a home. “Serve one another,” Jesus was telling and showing them. “If you think you’re too good to serve one another this way, just remember that I did it, and I’m your Lord and Teacher.”
Washing their feet also symbolized forgiveness. Just as He forgave the disciples-and they would need His forgiveness again in an hour or so when they abandoned Him to the soldiers- He wanted them to forgive one another.
We can all think we’re too cool, too good, too sophisticated, or too something else to stoop to serve others around us, but Jesus wants managers, officials, parents, and any others in authority to lead by serving.
I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.
When I chose this article to open today’s devotion, I knew there would be those who would wonder why I would choose a topic that is usually centered around Maundy Thursday and Easter. But I figured that to speak about the call to be servants needs to be heard all the year long. and it is in keeping with the Christmas story. You see Mary gave up her dignity, reputation and self to become a servant to humanity as she became the bearer of the Christ child. Sometimes when we read the Christmas story, we miss the fact that Mary’s journey had been almost the whole year. We forget that she had placed her future hopes, dreams and even her marriage on the line to serve God and humanity. What she taught was the same lesson that Jesus taught; it costs something to be a servant. It’s impossible to be a servant without giving up our rights, our wants, and our selfish desires. Jesus was clear when He said that He did not come to be served but to serve and he lived that principle out. Mary paid a high price to serve God and yet she has been given honor because she became a servant. It’s easy to demand our way, to seek to be satisfied with life, to allow ourselves to served but it’s another thing to choose the role of a servant. Sometimes even in the work of the church we can find ourselves seeking to be served and seeking our preferences. There is a phrase that has been coined: consumerism which means that we only value those things that benefit us or fit our preferences. Mary chose a different path. As a matter of fact the path she chose wouldn’t benefit her at all other than what God would bless her with. We think of the honor she was given to become the mother of the Son of God and forget the cost of it all. No doubt she was the subject of the neighborhood gossips, the topic of conversation whenever the women talked about the youth of the day and I’m sure they didn’t hold her in high esteem. Everything was fishy, the rushed wedding, her immediate pregnancy and I think the reason the Bible says that she kept all the things she was told in her heart is because she knew no one would believe her story. Could you imagine being the mother of the Son of God and not being able to spread that to your friends?
There is another character in the Christmas story who was a servant-Joseph. In most Christmas plays, he is the silent figure lurking in the background. He is present but he really isn’t noticed but how important his role was. Joseph was an ordinary young man who was engaged to the girl of his dreams and woke one day to discover she was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father and was considering quietly ending the engagement when the angel showed up. What Joseph heard was truly astounding, Mary was with child but that child hadn’t been the result of an affair. The child was the Son of God conceived by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph was being asked to become the husband of Mary and the father to this child. What a servants heart we find in Joseph for he took Mary to be his wife and scripture teaches that they did not come together as husband and wife until after the birth of Jesus. I don’t know many men would serve their wives that way or who would take on such a responsibility with so much at risk, but Joseph chose the role of a servant.
Three other characters that are usually part of the Christmas story although it was almost two years from the birth of Christ that they finally arrived in Israel. We don’t know for sure how many there were but we know they had carried expensive gifts and financed a journey simply so they could bow and worship a little boy. According to what we know, these men were kings in their own right but we find them on their knees before what appeared to be in the natural a carpenters baby. They came not to be served but to serve.
In truth these stories illustrate what Christ was teaching the disciples that night in the room. There is no joy that can exceed the joy one feels when we find opportunity to serve. And somehow those who seek to be served always seem to feel the service isn’t adequate nor satisfying. Somehow those who choose a servant’s heart are happier, more content people. You would think it would be the opposite, that those who are being served would have it better than those who are serving them. In truth the Creator who is the Great Servant designed it to be that those who serve are the ones who get the greatest satisfaction from life.
May in this season of giving, we choose to give to God and to others the greatest gift we can afford- the gift of ourselves and the gift of serving. And may we in turn receive the gift of fullness of joy and satisfaction simply because our Lord has taught us the art of servant hood.
Dr. John Thompson