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How to Wash Stinky Feet

John 13 contains one of the Gospel’s most poignant interactions between Jesus and his disciples.  Here we see Jesus taking on the most lowly, menial task of a household servant.  John reports that even after Judas Iscariot decided to betray him, “Jesus loved [his disciples] to the end” by taking off his outer garment, tying a towel around his waist, and washing their dirty, stinky feet.
I’ve heard or read many teachings on this passage and most of them conclude with something like this:  “Jesus gave us an example of how we should love others with a servant’s heart.  Go and love like He did so the world will know you as Jesus’ disciple.”  Although nothing in this exhortation is untrue, it is certainly incomplete.  It lacks in answering the “how” question.  I’m a mom of two small children and, honestly, some moralistic teaching about following the example of Jesus is completely unhelpful (and leads to much frustration) in my everyday life.  Even if I wake up on the “right side of the bed” and have purposed to remember the example of Jesus and to love like He did, I don’t last past the first bowl of cereal spilled across the freshly mopped kitchen floor.  I don’t just need to know more “to do’s.”  I need some “how to’s!” So, how are we to love in such a radical manner that stands in absolute contrast to our human nature?
The answer is hidden in a staggering appositive phrase in John 13:3 – “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.”  It’s so easy to read over an introductory statement like this one and plow on through to the action of the scene, but this is HUGE!  Jesus was free to show his disciples the full extent of his love by taking on the most disgusting role at the table because he knew three very important things: the authority that had been given Him, from whence He’d come, and where He was headed.
Jesus knew that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him (Matt. 28:18, Col. 2:10).  The One through whom the cosmos was created knew that all things were created by him and for him (Col. 1:16). He knew that he came with a clear mission from His Father (John 4:34, 7:28-29).  And Jesus knew his destiny – that he would reign at the right hand of God and be given the Name that is above every name (Eph. 1:20-21).  He had no insecurity or sense of lack that restricted him from laying down his own rights, looking first to the needs of others, and loving sacrificially.
So, rather than start off my day as a stay-at-home-mom with a list of moralistic imperatives, I’ll ask God to remind me that he’s seated me with him in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2:6).  I’ll ask Him to help me see myself as His image-bearer (Gen. 1:27), as one who was dead and has been made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5), and sent as His ambassador (2 Cor. 5:20).  And I’ll pray that I would be aware of my destiny – that I will see Jesus face-to-face and be made like Him (1 John 3:2) in my final, glorified state (Rom. 8:30)!  The beautiful proclamation of the Gospel released into my heart over and over again is my only hope of living a life of sacrificial, Christ-exalting love in front of a watching world.
Ashlee Johnson

Ashlee is the wife of a pastor, mom of two busy little ones, and a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Seminary. She is passionate about communicating the truths of Scripture to women and magnifying Jesus as the All-Satisfying Treasure and Almighty Redeemer. She has lived in North Carolina for most of her life and loves making the most of the sidewalks and parks in her 1940s neighborhood. Ashlee enjoys healthy eating and exercising, but finds it nearly impossible to resist homemade cookies!

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