Volunteering has gone mainstream.

Have you noticed that?  It seems like getting involved is now a popular thing to do.  Granted, it’s not in the traditional sense of serving on committees and boards.  Instead, volunteering is now primarily based on causes. 

Nevertheless, our culture has taken volunteering mainstream.

Yet, I can see an issue that must be probed.  Are we volunteering because we believe in the cause, guilt over the fear of missing out (FOMO), or because it makes us feel good—or all three at different times?

Jesus speaks to these issues as we turn a corner in the Gospel of JohnJohn 13 begins the second half of John’s gospel.  The tone changes as Jesus’ public ministry (John 1-12) closes, and we see an emphasis on His private ministry.

We start the second part of John’s Gospel with John 13:1-11.  It’s Thursday evening.

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.  

John 13:1-11
New International Version

In spite of what the Western World is used to seeing, the Last Supper looked nothing like the Leonardo Da Vinci painting.  Everything in it is wrong. 

“The Last Supper” mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

First of all, the men at the actual Last Supper weren’t white.  They were Jewish.  Second, they didn’t sit at a Western-style dining table.  They reclined at a three-sided table called a triclinium.  We’re not sure where most of the men sat, but we know where four of them sat.  As we move through the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, we’ll talk more about how we know, but for now, here are the seating arrangements we know.

Graphic by Author

Walking around in the arid, dusty land of Israel in sandals would make anyone’s feet dirty.  Therefore, in the first-century culture of Jesus, it was customary to have someone wash the feet of those coming into the house.  This was the job of a servant in the household, typically the servant with the lowest rank.  It was a dirty, filthy, nasty job.  Yet, it had to be done.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock

With all the preparations made for this Passover Meal, no one had taken care of the necessity of washing everyone’s feet.  Jesus didn’t flinch; He did it.  Jesus washing their feet isn’t significant because their feet needed cleaning.  It is significant because of the role He assumed by doing it.  He took a servant’s role—the position of the lowest servant.

As if the thought that the Creator of the Universe washed the dirty feet of His disciples wasn’t enough, consider the owner of those feet.  Consider Judas.

Judas had already betrayed Jesus by making a deal with the Sanhedrin.  Judas was now putting his plan into action.  Jesus knew this.  Jesus knew this and washed Judas’ feet anyway.  The Son of God knelt down on His knees at the feet of Judas the betrayer and washed each toe of both calloused feet.  He dried the feet of Judas with the towel around His waist.

I can’t know for sure, but I am confident Jesus didn’t feel good about doing that.  Jesus certainly didn’t wash Judas’ feet because He was afraid He’d miss out on something.  But nevertheless, Jesus washed their feet—all of them.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock

It teaches us something about serving.  It teaches us something about how we view ourselves and what we deserve.  It says something about loving our enemies and our neighbors.  It puts action to what Jesus taught publicly.

And there, in the flickering candlelight of that moment, Jesus taught us what love looks like.

Do you serve like that?