The apostle John, that disciple whom Jesus loved, tells a story about Jesus that is meant to catch our attention, but I am afraid it has lost its power to us. John chapter thirteen tells about Jesus in the upper room on the night before he was betrayed. Before the group has a meal together Jesus enters with a towel and a basin, and he washes the disciple’s feet. He takes their disgustingly dirty feet and moves his hands over them with soap and water. Historians tell us this was the job for the lowest member of the household. That could be the youngest child, or if they had slaves, the lowliest of slaves. Jesus takes the most distasteful job and does for his disciples in love.
Through the years we have lost the meaning in this story. Two things have changed our perspective. First is the invention of the shoe. No longer do people walk around in bare feet or open sandals except in the summer in warmer climates. The second thing is that we have replaced animals with vehicles for transportation. The streets are not filled with the dung of the donkeys and horses used to move goods and people. The roads are sanitized and our feet our clean. Nowadays when a Church holds a foot washing ceremony, it is usually a symbolic act of a leader to demonstrate how he serves others.
I was thinking of this story the other day when I stopped by the Church building after a couple of our ladies had just cleaned. The dirty floors were mopped. The filthy toilets had been scrubbed. The nasty trash cans had been emptied. We had volunteers who did the equivalent of washing the disciple’s feet. They did the most objectionable work without recognition
The reason this simple act caught my attention was that the evening before there was an interaction on a social media group that I follow. A fellow pastor had asked how other Churches with attendance under 200 people handled the cleaning of the Church building. The majority of responses replied that they had to pay someone to clean their building. The number one reason listed was most people had a difficult time finding volunteers to do this lowly work. The whole exchange made my heart hurt.
The invitation to serve people in the name of Jesus is not a call to fame and recognition. It is quite the opposite. To follow Jesus is to pick up a towel and a basin of water. It means cleaning dirty toilets, picking up trash and emptying cans full of it, tending to floors and changing diapers. Jesus shows us that the world is not changed from the top down. It is altered when people do the most menial tasks in his name. His kingdom is advanced when people abandon their pride and serve in ways that no one else will undertake.
Most of us want to equate doing the Lord’s work with some big project that attracts the attention of people. It rarely comes to us that way. The work of Jesus is to do the small actions that other people avoid. The good news is that we all have those jobs right in front of us every day. Today you have the opportunity to live like Jesus, but you will have to get your hands dirty.