The Word Among Us

February 2019 Issue

Unless I Wash You . . .

Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve.

Unless I Wash You . . .: Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve.

Peter thought he had seen it all. His time with Jesus had stretched him in many ways, but this? This was just too much. Jesus, the man he had called the “Holy One of God,” wanted to wash his feet (John 6:69). How could Peter possibly let his Master do that? If anything, Peter should be doing the washing. So Peter protested, “You will never wash my feet” (13:8).

We might chuckle at Peter. “There he goes again! The impetuous fisherman who always acts before he thinks.” But there is more going on in this scene than Peter being zealous. For after he washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus told them that his example should affect their lives: “As I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15).

This is probably one of the most important commands Jesus ever gave. He was giving his disciples—and all of us—a visual, memorable lesson on what it means to serve one another. Jesus was making it clear that anyone who follows him needs to learn how to humble themselves and pour themselves out as servants for the people around them, just as he did.

Let’s explore this topic this month. Let’s look at how our acts of kindness and care for each other can bring people in touch with Jesus on a very personal level. But before we get to that, let’s look at how Jesus himself served people in the Gospels—so that we can get a sense of how he wants to serve us today.

. . . As I Have Done for You. Responding to Peter’s outburst, Jesus insisted, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me” (John 13:8). If Peter wanted to have anything further to do with Jesus, he had to let Jesus serve him. He had to let Jesus wash his feet.

Imagine how hard that must have been! So many stories about Peter in the Gospels show him eager to serve and build God’s kingdom but often relying on his own strength. If anything needed to be done, Peter was the first to volunteer. If anyone needed protection—even Jesus—Peter was ready and willing. He always took a position of strength and ability. But here Jesus was telling Peter that it was time to let someone else wash his feet rather than be the one to do the washing. It was time to be served, not to serve.

It can be just as hard for us to be in this position. It takes a certain amount of humility to put ourselves into someone’s hands like this. It has a way of breaking down our pride and sense of independence and self-sufficiency. To let someone else wash our feet—whatever form that takes—sometimes means admitting that we need help. And that’s not always easy. But Jesus is just as insistent with us as he was with Peter: If you don’t let me wash your feet, you won’t know what it’s like to have me in your life. If you want to serve my people, you have to let me serve you first.

So what does it mean to let Jesus serve us? It doesn’t mean expecting him to give us everything we want. It doesn’t mean demanding that he clean up all our messes. Jesus wants to care for us on a much deeper level. Let’s look at three of the most important ways that Jesus wants to serve us—and how, like Peter, we need to let him wash our feet.

Forgiving Us. Have you ever had the experience of feeling like a new person after having gone to Confession? In the face of all you have done wrong, in the face of all you have just admitted to, you hear the priest say, “May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you of your sins.” It’s a humbling, uplifting feeling to know that God, who sees even more than you have confessed, still says, “I do not condemn you.”

This is the ultimate act of service. On the cross, Jesus laid down his life for us so that we could be forgiven. He offered himself up for us, knowing that it would cost him his life. But he did it willingly because he loved us too much to let us remain locked in our sin and self-centered ways.

Every day Jesus offers to wash our feet—even of our venial sins—so that our day-to-day sins do not pile up and weigh us down. He asks us to come to him and acknowledge our sin—as Peter allowed Jesus to wash his feet—so that he can cleanse us.

Sometimes, though, we resist Jesus serving us this way. It can be difficult to bring our sins to Jesus. We might not want to take an honest look at how we have failed. Owning up to what we have done wrong requires us to be humble and admit that we are still a work in progress. But Jesus delights in washing us clean and setting us free. For him, it was worth dying on the cross so that he could serve us in this way.

Filling Us with His Love. There are many ways parents serve their children. They clothe them and feed them and bathe them and provide a home for them. They educate them and form their minds and consciences. But all of these acts of service pale when compared to the security and stability parents provide when they simply show their children, no matter their age, that they will always love them and be there for them. Studies show that children whose parents consistently show them affection and love tend to go on to lead healthy, successful lives. But even when human parents fall short, God always cares for his children.

God is our loving Father, the best parent we will ever have. His love is the rock on which we can stand at all times, no matter what we are going through. This is another way we can let Jesus serve us: by opening ourselves up to the Father’s love each day in prayer.

At first glance, you might not think that prayer is a way that Jesus can serve you. You might see it as a duty or obligation instead. But what if you looked at prayer primarily as a time when you receive God’s love? As you are filled with his love, you will be able to go out and love and serve other people as he did.

Forming and Teaching Us. In Jesus’ time, well-off Greek and Roman families had slaves who acted as guardians for their sons. The guardian was to spend all of his time with his young charge. He oversaw the boy’s studies, escorted him to his lessons, guided him through social situations, and taught him to be a moral, upright citizen.

Jesus is like this guardian, but even better. The Greek guardian was a slave, not a member of the family. He always knew his place, and he served at his master’s pleasure. Jesus, on the other hand, is our Brother and our Friend. He wants to serve us by spending time with us and forming our hearts and minds. He wants to make all of us saints.

So let Jesus serve you. Each day, let his teachings in the Scriptures sink into your heart and mind. Let them change the way you view the world and the people in your life. Listen to him. Come to Jesus open and teachable, and allow his word to mold you. He may surprise you by showing you new ways to serve and care for everyone around you.

Will You? Forgiveness. Unconditional love. A heart and mind formed by God’s word. Jesus wants to wash your feet today. Right here, right now, he is inviting you to come away with him for a short while in prayer so that he can show you how much he loves you and how much he wants to do for you.

Will you let Jesus serve you?