Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. – John 13:1-16
I’ve had the opportunity to serve in various ways over the years beyond the local church and my responsibilities as Senior Pastor at St. John. I’ve had the privilege of serving the president of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod during three national conventions. I’ve also served on a couple of non-profit boards, including the photo club of which I am a member. Serving is easy for me; especially if I can be the soldier and not the general. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.
But life isn’t always that clear cut. And sometimes I have to assume the role of boss, leader, or director. That involves strategic thinking, planning, coordinating, and caring for others who serve under me. Some think such a job is easy, an enviable position to have.
Some really like the idea of being called boss. My take is significantly different. For me boss means responsibility, care, and helping those whom I boss to do their best. I guess I really buy the idea of Jesus’ servant leadership model of leadership.
It may be in part due to my impinging retirement, but I’m feeling more and more ready to assume to role of soldier and let someone else take the helm. In the meantime, however, I realize that I need to serve, and to avoid this calling is to neglect my duties as a follower of Jesus and a church leader and senior pastor.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I do it perfectly. In fact my greatest strength is also sometimes a weakness. That’s true for all of us. We have strengths, but in using them, we fail to do what needs to be done in other areas of ministry.
What might this mean for you? It might mean picking up the trash in the parking lot on the way into your office building and corner office. It might mean picking up the toys in the Sunday School room even though you’re not the teacher or in charge of that particular area of ministry. It could mean filling up the gas in your wife’s car, or helping a struggling student with her homework.
One thing for sure. It will mean something if we take these words to heart. This isn’t theoretical. Someone has to wear the servant’s towel. And if Jesus wore it, it would be more than appropriate for his followers to do the same.
Thankfully Jesus did wear that towel, but even his one-piece tunic was ultimately stripped from him two days earlier. He served us ultimately by offering his life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and the sins of the whole world.