In the time when Jesus walked through the Middle East, the custom of washing feet was common. Bowls of water and towels were the welcome mats of those days. Servants would render this simple and humble service—washing people’s dirty feet. But if there was no servant present, the host would often take on the foot washing.
As Jesus and his followers gathered for what would become known as the Last Supper (John 13:1–17), there was no one present to wash feet. One by one the disciples walked past the bowl and towel—no one offered to take on this role. Even though they had already experienced Jesus’ humble and servant-like leadership style, it didn’t occur to any of them to wash their fellow guests’ feet—not even their savior’s feet.
Instead, they remained with their dirty and sweaty feet, even during dinner. In the middle of the meal, Jesus got up from the table, got down on the ground, and washed their feet. The one who had created them was scrubbing their filthy feet. God’s own son, whom they should have been serving, was cleaning off their sweat and dirt.
Jesus was making a huge statement to his disciples, by getting down on his hands and knees, and washing the dirt from their feet. He showed that those who follow the crucified and risen Savior are called to offer humble service in the name of the one who bore the nails for them. Serving is foundational to our calling. To lead like Jesus is to take up the cross daily, to dip our hands in the water, wash the dirty feet, and serve as he did.
“The hands that washed the disciples’ feet would soon be nailed to a cross. This ultimate act of service and love cost Jesus his life. Our Lord was willing to get his hands dirty and bloody to show us what a true leader looks like.” —Kevin G. Harney, Leadership from the Inside Out: Examining the Inner Life of a Healthy Church Leader
Service isn’t always the most enjoyable or easy. It’s easier to keep our hands clean than to let them build up with calluses and dirt. Service is a very important aspect of leadership. As Jesus said after washing his disciples’ feet, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15–17).
Kevin G. Harney has written several books on how to be an effective yet humble leader. Check out some of his resources on Vyrso today: