Summary: Apostles, Pt. 15


One day a man received word he had just been appointed a *mandarin/public official. He was so excited, he could barely contain himself. “I will be a great man, now” he told his friend. “I must have a new robe made immediately, one that does justice to my new station in life.”

“I know the perfect tailor for you,” his friend replied. “He is an old, wise man who knows how to give every customer the perfect fit. Let me give you his address.”

So the new mandarin went to the tailor, who carefully took his measurements. After he had put away his tape measure, the old man said: “There is one more piece of information I need to know. Tell me, sir, how long have you been a mandarin?”

“Why? What does that have to do with the fit of my robe?” his client asked in surprise.

“Ah, I can’t make the robe without knowing that, sir. You see, a newly appointed mandarin is so impressed with his office, he holds his head high in the air, tilts his nose up, and sticks his chest out. So I must make the front of his robe longer than the back.

“A few years later, when he is busy with his work, and level-headed from the stings of experience, and looks straight ahead to see what is coming and what must be done next, then I cut the robe so the front and back are the same length.

“And later, after he is stopped by old age and so many years of weary service, not to mention the humility learned from a lifetime of endeavor, then I must cut the robe so the back is longer than the front.

“Therefore, sir, I must know your *seniority if I am to fit you properly.” (Adapted from The Moral Compass by William Bennett)

Foot washing is a prominent practice in the New Testament church. Paul admonished widows to focus on good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality and washing the feet of the saints (1 Tim 5:10).

According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Foot”), the dusty roads of Palestine and the Eastern tradition of removing shoes before entering a house make foot washing a necessary, healthy and polite social custom and behavior. Abraham had supplied water to three strangers who had come to announce Sarah’s motherhood and the destruction Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:4). On the day before Jesus’ arrest, He washed the disciples’ feet to provide them an example so that they would humble themselves like Him and serve one another in love.

Why is humility a gain and not a loss, a strength and not a weakness, an advantage and not a disadvantage?

Humility is Perfected in Love

13:1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:1-5)

Cleaning the body a few times a day was not uncommon in the East, especially in Asia. In contrast, most people in the United States usually shower once a day on a good day. Growing up in tropical Asia, I took a bath (not shower) twice a day because of the humid conditions and stifling heat there, and more on a sizzling day. The moment you retreat into the house to escape the scorching sun, you want to turn on the fan and air conditioning unit, if you are fortunate enough to have one, and hit the showers once the body cooled down. Before too long after the bath, sweat would start breaking out, trickling down your head, making your neck sticky, hands clammy and mood sultry. I perfected the shower once, not twice, a day the last time I was in Hong Kong in 2006, remembering why I once used to take a shower at the end of the day.

Most houses in Asia then did not have air-conditioning, so the running fan made residents thankful, but it also induced sleep. The mall is an option but walking there is not. I used to wipe my face, hands and body- but not the limbs - with a towel a few times a day. After use, the towel had to be washed or rinsed. If not, the towel would turn smelly, rot quickly or change color!

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