“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
Verses 13-14 (NIV)
The foot washing service has long gone by the wayside. It was once a regular occurrence in the Missionary Church of Canada, and it was intended to remind the congregation of the importance of servant hood and humility in the work of serving one another and the community.
Jesus takes the posture of a servant. But when Peter tries to tell Jesus what to do, Jesus speaks as a master. Jesus is a mystery, and part of that mystery is how Jesus handles his power.
Jesus teaches again and again that in the kingdom of God, the strong serve the weak, and “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). It’s not easy to understand this. It can seem upside-down to us, because it is the opposite of the way the world has worked since ancient times.
That’s why Peter is confused and why many Christians are still confused about power today. Christians still struggle with how to act when they have power. Sometimes they act as if power signifies God’s special favour and they can do whatever they like with it. Other Christians do the opposite, as if using their power is something to be avoided.
Jesus gave a better example. He did not relinquish his earthly power. He used it to help people who had less power. True, the disciples could have washed their own feet, but Jesus used foot washing to illustrate how he came to serve and teach them. And once the disciples knew Jesus, they were to serve others and teach about him, using the power he gave. We can do the same, using the power he gives us to serve and teach people who don’t yet know him.
Dear Jesus, empower me so that I can empower others. Help me to never abuse or neglect the power you have provided. Amen.