They Did Jehovah’s Will
The Greatest Man Performs a Humble Service
JESUS knew that his final hours with his apostles would be precious. Before long, he would be arrested, and his faith would be tested as never before. Jesus was also aware that great blessings lay ahead. Soon he would be exalted to the right hand of God and be given “the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground.”—Philippians 2:9, 10.
Yet, neither anxiety over his impending death nor eagerness for his promised reward distracted Jesus from the needs of his apostles. He “loved them to the end,” John later recorded in his Gospel. (John 13:1) And in these crucial last hours of his life as a perfect human, Jesus taught his apostles a vital lesson.
A Lesson in Humility
The apostles were with Jesus in an upper room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Previously, Jesus had heard them arguing about who was the greatest among them. (Matthew 18:1; Mark 9:33, 34) He had discussed this matter with them and had endeavored to correct their viewpoint. (Luke 9:46) Now, however, Jesus emphasized those lessons using a different approach. He chose not only to talk to them about humility but to demonstrate it.
Jesus “got up from the evening meal and laid aside his outer garments,” John writes. “Taking a towel, he girded himself. After that he put water into a basin and started to wash the feet of the disciples and to dry them off with the towel with which he was girded.”—John 13:4, 5.
In the warm climate of the ancient Middle East, people usually wore open sandals as they walked on dusty roads. Upon entering the home of a common person, they would be greeted by a host, who would provide vessels and water so that they could wash their feet. In wealthier homes, a slave would perform the task of foot washing.—Judges 19:21; 1 Samuel 25:40-42.
In the upper room, Jesus and his apostles were not someone’s guests. There was no host to provide vessels, and there were no slaves to do the foot washing. When Jesus began washing their feet, the apostles were put in an awkward situation. Here the One who was the greatest among them performed the humblest task!
At first, Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet. But Jesus told him: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” When Jesus finished washing the feet of all the apostles, he said: “Do you know what I have done to you? You address me, ‘Teacher,’ and, ‘Lord,’ and you speak rightly, for I am such. Therefore, if I, although Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also.”—John 13:6-15.
Jesus was not instituting a ritual of foot washing. Rather, he was helping his apostles adopt a new frame of mind—one of humility and a willingness to perform the lowliest of tasks in behalf of their brothers. Evidently, they got the point. Consider what happened years later when the question of circumcision arose. Though “much disputing” took place, those present maintained good order and listened respectfully to one another’s views. Furthermore, it seems that the one who presided over that meeting was the disciple James—not one of the apostles, as we might have expected, since they were present. This detail in the account in Acts indicates that the apostles had made considerable progress in manifesting humility.—Acts 15:6-29.
Lesson for Us
By washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus provided a powerful lesson in humility. Indeed, Christians should not think that they are so important that others should always serve them, nor should they aspire to positions of honor and prestige. Instead, they should follow the pattern set by Jesus, who “came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Yes, followers of Jesus should be willing to perform the humblest services for one another.
For good reason Peter wrote: “Gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (1 Peter 5:5) The Greek word for “gird” is derived from the word meaning “a slave’s apron,” under which a loose garment was girded up. Could Peter have been making reference to Jesus’ act of girding himself with a towel and washing the feet of his apostles? This cannot be stated with certainty. Nevertheless, Jesus’ humble service made an indelible impression on Peter’s heart, as it should upon the hearts of all who would be Christ’s followers.—Colossians 3:12-14.