Summary: Jesus modeled real influence when he washed his disciples feet.
In our scripture this evening, we see the servant message of the Gospel. Jesus and his disciples are coming home after a tense day in Jerusalem, a day in which Jesus alludes to the imminence of his impending death. Filled with anxiety and fear, they enter the upper room. After a day out in the dirty streets of Jerusalem, one of the members would be assigned the task of getting out a basin and washing the dirty feet of the group. But the disciples were so caught up in themselves, no one bothered to take care of this menial task, that is until Jesus took a towel and basin and went about cleaning up the disciples smelly feet. Peter,embarrassed by the fact of his own neglect, attempts to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Jesus rebuffs Peter and tells him, it was not only ok for him to wash their feet, but it was necessary. Jesus defined his understanding of leadership when he said, “The son of man has come not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus is saying if you really want to make a difference in this world, if you really want to be a leader, it wont be by getting others to do what you want, instead it will be putting the needs of others before your own. Jesus not only modeled that kind of servant leadership by washing feet, but the next day paid the ultimate price of a servant leader, he gave up his life for the ones he served.
After Jesus finished washing their feet, he turns to his disciples and tells them, just as I your leader have washed your feet, so you need to do the same to each other. Jesus modeled servant leadership and then calls on his followers to do the same. "You call me ’Teacher’ and ’Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 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.
Now if I asked what you would like to do with your life, I don’t think many of you would say, You know pastor what I would really like to be in life is a servant, right. Yes, pastor, I want to do those dirty jobs that nobody else wants to do. I want to change diapers in the nursery, I want to clean up the fellowship hall after a lock in with kids, I would like to distribute food to the poor at our food bank. Now, if we are honest with ourselves, being a servant is not the #1 thing to do on our list. Yet, Jesus washes his disciples not make them feel guilty, but to model before them a lifestyle that has the potential of not only changing the life of those whom they served, but changing their lives as well.
Jesus in washing his disciples feet is not using a guilt trip to get his disciples to do things they don’t want to do. He is calling them to experience real joy in the Christian life, a joy that comes from being God’s servants in the world. The most joyous people I have ever met in this world, are those who have learned the secret of being servants. Acts of service are not burdens we bear to please a demanding God, they are the pathway to joy and real significance in this life.
A couple of weeks ago I quoted Henri Nouwen in one of my sermons. The late Nouwen was a catholic priest who was a most gifted man of God. He climbed the academic ladder and came to teach at prestigious institutions like Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. He averaged authoring one book a year and many of them were best sellers. He was in demand as a speaker and traveled the world giving lectures on faith.
He had a résumé to die for—which was the problem, exactly. The pressing schedule and relentless competition were suffocating his own spiritual life. So he took six months away and went to work with the poor in South America. But upon returning to the states, he jumped back on the hectic schedule of teaching, writing and speaking.
Finally he took time off to work at L,Arch in France, a home of the severly mentally retarded. He felt so nourished by them that he agreed to become priest in residence at a similar home in Toronto called Daybreak. There, Nouwen spent his last ten years, still writing and traveling to speak here and there, but always returning to the haven of Daybreak.
Author Philip Yancey went to visit Nouwen while at Daybreak. Yancey had lunch with him in his small room. It had a single bed, one bookshelf, and a few pieces of Shaker-style furniture. The walls were unadorned except for a print of a Van Gogh painting and a few religious symbols. No fax machine, no computer, no calendar posted on the wall—in this room, at least, Nouwen had found serenity.