During Passover, Jesus gave His followers an incredible object lesson in Servant Leadership. He stooped down, took off his outer clothes, and thus looking the part of a slave, he proceeded to wash their feet. His actions and words revealed a type of leadership that was uncomfortable, humble, stinky…and beautiful.
Uncomfortably close. Uncomfortably out of the ordinary. There are a lot of times when I shy away from talking to someone or helping someone because it is much more comfortable to keep my distance. I tend to avoid any discussions or situations that may be, as the kids would say, “Awkward!” But real service requires close proximity. You can’t pay this type of leadership by mailing in $30 a month. You have to be uncomfortably close. This was also just a very strange thing. You can hear the disciples as they wrinkled up their foreheads and looked at each other with confused looks on their faces: “Is HE really going to do THAT?” Sometimes service requires that you do something weird. Strange. Uncomfortably out of the ordinary. (Embrace the awkward!)
We Americans are used to the idea that we are all equal; that no one is above another. We revel in watching “Undercover Boss” where they make it painfully obvious that just because you are the CEO it doesn’t mean you’re all that. The culture in AD 30 was different. In the culture of their day, there were many distinctions of power and money that clearly separated the classes from each other. That’s just how it was…there was a certain order to things. Certainly there was government power structure, and wealth has always bought influence. But don’t forget the incredible power held by the religious hierarchy of the Jews of that day. Looking at how much power the priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees wielded, I have to think that the disciples were looking forward to being a part of the inner circle of the most powerful Rabbi in Israel. The triumphal entry was a glimpse at the popularity and power that they could have. And now this? Rolling up his sleeves like a novice servant to do the lowliest job imaginable? Performing a menial task far below his normal status? Jesus showed them humility in action.
There were many ways that Jesus could have demonstrated Servant Leadership to them. I don’t really want to touch anybody’s feet and ankles. Especially not right before supper! Why did he choose the option that involved removing the sweat and road grime from the feet of his followers? I guess it was the most extreme example He could come up with, in their time. He wanted to make sure that his followers got the message.
Jesus had spent his years touching the unclean, the unwanted, the obnoxious, the ostracized, the blind, the bleeding, the sick, and the dead. On that night he wrote one last paragraph that summarized his lifetime of service. A final act that gave meaning to the entire play. I’m sure it was an unforgettable night for each and every one of his disciples.
This act of service reminds us of the central truth: The one who desires to be greatest must become the servant of all. May we all follow His example and become the kind of leaders that we need to be.
PBS Article about social order in the Roman Empire: Link
It’s a great idea to teach your kids about the concept of washing others’ feet. Here are pictures from last year… (it can be a lot of fun too!)