When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper, He wasn’t just filling in for some servant who forgot to come that night. He was teaching them some important lessons that He wanted them to know experientially before He left them.
The most obvious of these was His totally unexpected demonstration of what it means to serve one another. “If I, as your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, then you also ought to wash one another’s” (Jn.13). In this one powerful expression of voluntary humility, He sweeps away all illusions of grandeur we might associate with leadership, including our visions of glory or lording it over one another. We so often think of leadership as an intrinsically one-up position which exempts us from things that ought to be delegated to others, or as a lofty position from which we can look down on the others.
If you will permit me a somewhat distant analogy, my wife and I occasionally enjoy a local pizza place here in North Carolina, where we often see the owner out among the patrons, clearing off dishes and wiping tables. Now imagine what it would mean to be an employee of his. What a powerful message he sends to them, that nothing is beneath you, and if something needs to be done, just go ahead and do it. And more than that, we are all in this together to make this a better place.
A leader may have more responsibilities than I have, but he does not use his power to put me one-down. Perhaps Jesus is not so much lowering our standards, as He is raising the value and meaning of service. And in doing so, He is strengthening our bonds to one another, irrespective of where He has placed us in the Body. Because we are all in this together. And we need one another more than we know. Furthermore, we can all get dirty walking around on this planet, and we need to serve one another and lift up one another so we can all be more clean.