Washing of the Disciples’ Feet
In order to lead, first we must serve:
(Jesus) rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” -John 13:4-7, NAB
How strange of a scene is this? Here is the Son of the living God preparing to wash the feet of His disciples. This is a task usually left for the servants of the house, but here their Teacher got down on His hands and knees to serve them! It’s no surprise that the disciples were a little confused:
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” -John 13:8-9, NAB
I love Peter’s response in this verse. At Mass this morning, the Pastor of my parish approached me and asked if I would be willing to let him wash my feet on Holy Thursday in honor of this Gospel story. At first, in my heart, I hesitated, just as Peter did, but then I remembered the meaning of this story, and I was now honored to have been asked.
So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. -John 13:12-16, NAB
The first lesson from today’s Gospel is that great leadership comes from being a great servant. Whether it is on the job or in your home, to lead, you must serve the needs of others first. If you want to be a great boss, then put the needs of your employees before your own. If you want to be a great dad or mom, you have to put the needs of your spouse and children first. If you want to be a respected leader in the Church, begin with service.
The second lesson from this verse, which applies to so many aspects of our lives, is that we will not always understand why God is asking us to do things, but we should do them anyway. Peter didn’t understand why Jesus was doing this, but He responded with an overwhelming eagerness to follow Christ. Christ will call us to do things that are outside of our comfort zone, and despite how uncomfortable it may make us feel, we need to respond with the same eagerness and passion as Peter.
My wife enjoys serving the homeless in our community, but in all honesty, it pulls me way outside of my natural comfort zone. It may not be my favorite thing to do, but I choose to do it with her for two reasons. First, it serves my wife by serving her needs and her passions before my own. Second, if Christ is calling me to do it, then I will respond with all of the same passion that Peter showed us today.
Before you will ever lead a single soul to Christ, you must be willing to serve first. You must serve that person and serve your God. Take a step outside of your comfort zone, get down on your knees, and serve the Lord, your God – just as He served us on His way to the cross.