John 13 – Humility, Love, and Smelly Feet

In John 13, we find Jesus teaching some last lessons to his disciples before he went to the cross. Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples when he decided to take a very unusual course of action — especially for the one they called “Master”.

Jesus took on a role usually delegated to the least important person in a household and He washed His disciples’ feet. This task was considered so beneath Jesus that Peter initially refused to allow Christ to do it.

Jesus corrected Peter and went on to explain why He would (quite literally) stoop to this level: He wasn’t just trying to clean his disciples’ feet out of kindness, He was trying to teach them humility. He told them that if He, their Lord and Master, could humble Himself and perform this menial task for them, they ought to be willing to do the same for each other.

Humility can be a real struggle, especially in a world that teaches us we have to promote ourselves to gain the respect, promotion, recognition, or the accolades we want. What starts as a genuine desire for respect can snowball into an out of control ego surprisingly quickly

But, as I reread chapter 13, I noticed (maybe for the first time) how Jesus was able to maintain His own humility. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus knew who he was and where he was going. He knew he came from God and was returning to God. He knew God had already given Him everything.

Because He was already beloved and endorsed by His Father, He didn’t need to worry about what His disciples (or anyone else, for that matter) thought about Him. He already possessed the approval of the only One who mattered.

Hang on a second, though. Can’t we say the same for us? I think so. The Bible tells us that we who are found in Christ are beloved children of God. I wonder if we really understood how much we are loved, how much we are valued, how much we are appreciated – would it change our perspective on the world?

Since we don’t need to impress people so much, we can stop worrying about our importance down here, we don’t need to try to puff ourselves up, and put others down. What’s more: we can gladly handle the jobs no one else wants.  If we remember we are children of the sovereign ruler of the universe, dearly loved children, at that, then the court of public opinion cannot pass sentence on us. I don’t need everyone to love me, and I don’t have to convince everybody how smart, talented, or attractive I am. Maybe his approval is all I really need.

Jesus didn’t stop with a lesson on our attitude toward ourselves, though. Next, He took aim at how we treat others. He told His followers everyone would know we were really His disciples if we loved one another.

If God loves us so much that we don’t need to impress anyone, how much does He love the people around us? If He loves them that much, shouldn’t we care about them, too? Humility frees us from the burden of trying to improve our own standing, while love compels us to lift others up.

Jesus was about to prove both His humility and love in the most dramatic way possible: He was about to sacrifice Himself in the most demeaning, painful way — all for the very disciples who were about to abandon (and even deny) Him, and for all His disciples in every generation since, who routinely mess up in a lot of the same ways. While Peter proclaimed his undying allegiance, Jesus knew just how long that promise was going to last.

But Jesus still washed His feet, didn’t He?

He loves us, too, even when we make mistakes.

Our challenge: learning just how much He loves us, and learning to love others with the same reckless abandon: willing to sacrifice because we don’t need to worry about ourselves, anymore.


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