“’No, said Peter, you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ’unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” (John 13:8 NIV)
It is so hard for us to accept being served by someone in authority, particularly when the service involves a menial task. It upsets our paradigm. A servant serves his master. An employee serves his or her boss. Jesus, the master and teacher, was turning that paradigm upside down. Peter was the first to proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God. How could he allow the Son of God to wash his feet? Unthinkable!
From earliest childhood, we are taught to be self-sufficient. A young child proudly proclaims, “I did it by myself.” One of the challenges of a disabling illness or injury is having to depend on someone else to do things for you that you would ordinarily do yourself. It can be humbling when a disabling condition makes us dependent on another.
Several years ago our family was traveling from New York to the Midwest. We alerted a former law school friend and his wife that we would like to stop by to see them. They expected us to stay with them overnight, but we decided to check into a motel, not wanting to impose upon them. They were offended, interpreting our decision as a rejection of their offer of hospitality. To use Jesus’ words, we were rejecting having a “part” with them.
Like so many of Jesus’ words and actions, his example offers multiple lessons for us. While we need to be willing to receive service, it is even more important for us to serve. As Jesus later explains, “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)
In David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, he tells the following story. At a special reception Truman held for Stalin and Churchill at the Potsdam Peace Conference near the end of World War II, Sergeant Eugene List, an American concert pianist, played a Chopin waltz. List asked if someone in the audience would be good enough to turn the pages. Truman jumped to his feet, waived off another volunteer and did the job himself. In a letter to his wife, List later wrote, “Imagine having the President of the United States turn the pages for you!”
Are you willing to be served by another, and to serve another as well?