It’s Maundy Thursday, and today we recall Jesus gathering his disciples together before the festival of Passover for a meal… The very last meal he has with them before he heads toward the cross.
In John, we see that Jesus gets up from the table in the middle of dinner, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. Then he does something that would have shocked his disciples… Something that only a servant would have done for a houseguest. He gets down on the ground on his hands and knees, pours water into a basin, and then begins to wash his disciples’ feet. As he gets to Simon Peter, Peter calls out to Jesus in complete bewilderment: “Lord, are you seriously washing our feet?! You, my Lord and Rabbi, can never wash my feet!”
I completely relate to Peter. I understand how it may have been incredibly baffling for Jesus to serve me… at the place only a disciple of a rabbi would sit.
Why in the world would Jesus sit at my feet… and wash them as a servant would do, for Pete’s sake!?
As a pastor who tested off the charts as a #2 on the Enneagram: “The Helper,” I tend to give and serve… and serve and give… and give and serve. This can be a great asset for a pastor – for someone who is in the human services field. And yet, this can also be my greatest detriment. I tend to give and serve so much that I have difficulties saying “no.” And when all of the “yeses” add up, I end up sacrificing my own time for myself.
I give and serve so much that I struggle to give up control to others who have great ideas and resources.
I give and serve so much that I make little time to take care of myself.
I give and serve so much, that I end up not allowing others to sit at my feet and wash them… To serve me every once in a while. I think sometimes I forget that I am also Jesus’ beloved… That I deserve this, too.
And eventually, it all catches up to me.
I will never forget when I first started hanging out with my husband, Jonathan. I had previously been in a marriage where I was often giving and serving and caretaking, and this was rarely being reciprocated. And so when Jonathan had me over to make me homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes, I immediately went into his kitchen and picked up the pan. Jonathan stopped me, grabbed my hand, and walked me to the dining room. “Sit,” he said. “Sometimes you just need to allow others to serve you.”
It was a foreign feeling. And yet, as I began this practice of receiving service from others, I felt liberated. I felt renewed. And I felt more equipped to better serve others in my ministry and personal life.
For Jesus, this act of allowing him and others to serve us is a crucial practice. He later explains to his disciples that he has set out an example for how they are to love others. And that just as he – their Lord and Rabbi – washes their feet and serves them, they ought to do so for one another. And yet, they cannot fully love and serve others without first allowing themselves to be served.
We must not forget that we, too, cannot give, serve, love, and care for others without first being served… By Jesus and by so many of our brothers and sisters who are called to be Christ to us.
Because when we do allow our feet to be washed, we just might be surprised at how much we really needed to be cleansed so that we might be better equipped to return this loving act.