Week of Aug. 16

What Does Love Have to Do with Feet?

Read: Jeremiah 7-9; John 13

 “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”
John 13:17-18, ESV


“As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service” (Richard Foster). The author of the Celebration of Discipline confronts us with our own human frailty when he challenges the viral attitude of superiority that so often infects our hearts in subtle ways. He states that most of us are comfortable with not being the greatest, but we recoil at the thought that we must be the least (p. 126)! Isn’t this true of our hearts in so many ways? Let’s reflect today upon the profound statement that Jesus makes, and the example that he sets, when he washes our feet!

A Biblical Lens

A quick overview of our context will enable us to center our text at the level of our hearts so that it may speak directly to us. It will not take a seminary professor to clue in on the way that Jesus intended for love to be shown toward one another. The narrative of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples speaks plainly in this regard. The servant theme rises to the surface, and it is grounded in an ethic of love (13:1; 3:16). I am not intending to be critical, but a chapter on sacrificial love has often been neglected in popular Christian books on servant leadership (cf. 13:14, 34). Thankfully, John includes it in his; and, for good reason.

This chapter, in the broader context of John introduces what has been termed the “Farewell Cycle.” Once you and I place this as a backdrop to coming events, we will gain a clearer perspective on the exacting nature of the servant-love that Jesus requires of his true followers. Indeed, the scene is set in the context of Passover, which symbolizes God’s great act of loving deliverance. The events in the room that night portend the coming great act of love on the cross where the Lamb of God would die for the sins of the world (1:29; 12:23-24; 1 John 2:2). What impact did it make that night? Hmm. Let me simply state that it took time for the full meaning of Christ's actions to soak into the hearts of his disciples (13:7).

Peter and Judas provide us with two opposite ends of a spectrum. Jesus shows us there is no room in the Passover room for the hubris of Peter’s human miscues or Judas’ conniving hostility (13:6, 10b-11, 18)! Judas we get, but Peter we often excuse. Jesus did not allow anything less than wholistic servant-love! This passage makes me squirm, how about you?

Jesus’ actions as Teacher and Lord defy human understanding (13:12-13). In Ashlock speak, "People at the top have people to serve the people at the bottom!" Folks with position and authority do not like to lay aside either status or power. Those who are atop the pinnacle of power will occasionally step down to volunteer at the homeless shelter, but they do not like to make stepping down to practice the menial a lifestyle (13:6, “Do you wash my feet?” cf. 1:27). Jesus did, and he expects his followers to do the same (13:14; cf. Philippians 2:7). I know, this is too hard to swallow whole, but please hang in here with me. There is more!

Let me put on my best preacher's cadence for a moment. It is my contention that human ambition takes me out of the right position to offer Christ-love to others. Seriously, Jesus has already encountered the ambition of the wider circle of disciples (Matthew 20:21; Mark 10:37). Furthermore, despite Peter’s claims to the contrary, he exhibits similar trust in his own abilities to follow the Master’s path of suffering (13:37). Judas? There is no need to dwell at length on that dumpster fire of smoldering pride (13:11; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-4).

Jesus agrees that he is their rightful Master (13:13b, 39; “for so I am.” GK: egō eimi). There was no relinquishing of his authority. We will see that leadership roles emerged in the early church; and, rightfully so. However, the Savior was showing how to apply such authority through his “divinely directed mission.” We must not toy with humility because he did not stand for it; in fact, he knelt because of it. Humble self-giving out of love marks the life of a true Christ-follower.

A Moral Pathway

I grew up in the 1960s-70s, and my home years were filled with Christian love. However, dads were powerful figures in the home in that era, which meant that they did not always state verbally their love for their children. Proper answers were “Yes sir” and “No sir,” which meant no lip given back to the "Sir!" I am smiling because I know that fathers lived out their love by protecting and providing for their families. I knew, without a doubt, that my father loved me, but it was a challenge, at times, for me to equate that sort of power with love.

There was a defining moment in my life that demonstrated the depth of my father’s love for me. I was a young pastor and dad, and my father and mother had come for a visit. I took exception to something that my dad did, and I went into “sulk mode.” I know, that was not very mature on my part, but I am being transparent here.

He followed me upstairs to my study and did the most unsettling thing. While I sat in the chair behind my desk, he took a seat at the lowest position in the room—a pink foam couch into which he sank almost to the floor! The visual picture of my powerful dad sinking into that pink couch nearly "stripped my gears," as we say. It was what he said, however, that began to chisel away the stony pride that had encompassed my heart.

He looked up at me and, with tears pouring down his cheeks, he said, “I love you, Larry.” That man did not wash my feet, but he certainly bathed my heart with love from Christ. I did not deserve such love, but he graciously gave it to me. He taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten, and I have sought to practice such Christ-love throughout my life (cf. John 13:31-35). My dad taught me that day the relationship between giving love (power that puts food on the table) and the Savior’s love (giving up the power to feed the soul).

For Your Journaling

1. Write down some ways that you may be stopping short of serving others as “Christ’s least.” How will you remedy this attitude?

2. Powerful churches flex their ability through a show of power as represented in their strength of numbers and size of budgets. How may you show the genuine servant-love of Christ to the weak and helpless?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock