John 13:2b-5, 34-35
And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus turned our world upside-down, didn’t he? Instead of being born in a palace, he was born in humble surroundings. Instead of using clever marketing techniques to gain followers, he chose a few friends and said, “Don’t tell anybody what I’ve just done.” Instead of conquering the political and religious leadership that brought him to the cross, he conquered death. And now, in this passage, instead of being served, he chose to serve his disciples by washing their filthy feet.
Our focus for today is servanthood. Jesus shows his disciples the way of humble servitude and tells them (and us) to love one another. In the Gospel of Luke (22:27) he also says, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” With this statement, there is a deeper meaning of servanthood. Jesus uses servanthood as an equalizer. As we love one another, we are all servants of one another. We are all equals.
Those of us who followed the show, “Downton Abbey” saw how boundaries were formed and separateness maintained between the servants and the lords and ladies of the estate. The servants had separate living quarters. They ate separately and kept a respectful distance from those they served. But once in a while boundaries were crossed when relationships deepened between certain servants and elite family members. When this happened, everyone on both sides became quite upset. Everyone was so used to having certain roles in society, it was difficult to see these roles undone.
When Jesus shows us that he is among us as one who serves, he is showing us that we are all equal. He is teaching us that we should love and serve others, but also that those “others” are able to love and serve us, too. Often when we think of serving, we think, “Who could use my help?” Perhaps we should ask, “Who would be blessed to serve me?” We are humbled being servants. But we are also humbled being served at times, aren’t we? Servanthood isn’t just about serving. It’s about holding one another as equals. It’s about mutually helping one another.
Our reminder symbol is a towel, to remind us of how Jesus humbled himself to wash the disciples’ feet. May we live as Jesus did, loving and serving others. May we also recognize that we are all servants; we are all equally able to bless one another in some way. “Let mutual love continue” (Hebrews 13:1).
You humbly showed us how to love and serve one another. Help me to recognize that we are all equally loved by you, that you call every one of us to be servants, and that everyone has something to offer. Help me to give mutual love and care. Help me to receive mutual love and care.
Especially today, thank you for your servant’s heart as you washed the disciples’ feet. Thank you for giving us a way to remember you by sharing your body and blood through Holy Communion. Thank you that we all come to the table as equals for your sacred meal. May all that I say and do reflect your all-embracing, welcoming love for everyone.