Humility

In class this past semester we spent some time talking about the Last Supper, and the point was made that Jesus does something extraordinary right before the meal. It’s extraordinary because it’s so, well…ordinary.

I suppose this has to be set up correctly before delving into it, but consider everything that has happened in the Gospel of John up until chapter thirteen. Jesus has turned water into wine, healed a sick boy from a distance, restored a crippled man’s physique, fed five thousand people on five loaves of bread and two fish, walked on water, brought back a blind man’s sight, raised a man from the dead, and miraculously avoided certain death on numerous occasions.

Next, consider that this is (unbeknownst to the disciples) the group’s last night together. Jesus’ time has finally arrived. Death is imminent. Your final night together…

How do you top what has happened so far? Whatever it ends up being, surely it’ll be grandiose. Something in the vein of Cirque du Soleil, I would suppose. In verse three you have this moment where kinetic energy builds up tremendously: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God…” There’s almost this rising action denoting something big. Your mind is reeling at the thought of what could possibly be coming next. And then it comes. Jesus proceeds to…

Wrap a towel around himself…

He’s grabbing a bucket of water…

He just motioned the disciples over…

He’s washing their feet.

Feet.

Other than Christ’s death on the cross itself, this is the one act that resonates most with me. This is the Son of God, God incarnate in the flesh on the last night he’ll spend with the people closest and dearest to him, and he decides to do something so easy and simple that any of us could do it. Is this a joke?

Everybody knows this story so well to a point that it doesn’t mean anything anymore, which is a shame because it reminds us that our ability to be an impactful servant like Christ will never be fully actualized until the fetters of self-centeredness are thrown off. That goes on to affect everything.

Your career is pointless if you do not somehow use it as a springboard toward putting your peers before yourself. Your wealth is a cesspool of insignificance if it is not used to work toward the benefit of the less-fortunate. Your good Christian friends are a hindrance—not a blessing—if they swallow your time, making it to where they are the only people you hang around. And your life isn’t even to be about your life.

Could it be that the thing you do that resonates most with people will be just a simple act that will occur when you purposefully step out of the way, remove yourself from the picture, and raise others above yourself?

Much love.

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10 comments
  1. Sarah Kyle said:

    Nelson-

    I think the Last Supper is the one model of what it truly means to follow Christ. Up until the washing of the feet, one could think that you had to have superpowers to make any difference in the world, but by wrapping that towel around himself, Christ showed that sometimes the most humbling thing a person could do is the most impacting action that person could take.

    I think it’s important for us to realize that we don’t (and shouldn’t) try to make some grand show of our Christianity or faith. Our true Christianity lies in moments like these- quiet moments of humility and servitude.

    Great posts, keep it up!

    Sarah

  2. Cindy Moser said:

    Tough thing to throw off those fetters of self-centeredness. They boomerang right back. It’s one thing volunteer for acts of servanthood when I can control the amount and timing of what will be involved on my part, coming when I can, leaving when it’s convenient. I’m finding it’s quite another thing to find myself in the servant’s role day in day out taking care of my mother. I like to think of myself as willing to give as Christ gave, but my current circumstances are showing my true colors–theory and reality are clashing.

  3. S.DuBose said:

    A thought that just occurred to me as I was reading your post and the following comments was the fact that the scriptures say that Christ was tempted in all ways as we are. That being the case, he was tempted to not humble himself and wash the feet of those he knew would deny him in the near future. Wow…I’m so glad he did not yield to that temptation! What a wonderful example he has given us to follow. An example that is hard for me to follow, yet not as hard as it was for Jesus. It is hard to humble myself when I have my eyes on myself. When my eyes are on Jesus, he makes the way clear. What great love he had for them and for us. I am so thankful to know that my Savior not only created me but walked this earth in human form and knows what I am struggling with and knows how to assist me on my journey. To Him be all Glory and Praise forevermore!

  4. Emily Crooks said:

    One of the things that I’ve realized more than ever this summer is the extent of my own selfishness. Ironically I never really thought of myself as a selfish person, but over and over again this summer I’ve realized that almost every decision I make has an ulterior motive… my own happiness and comfort. When I’m faced with a decision to make that gives nothing back to me but is simply for the good of someone else, an excuse is never far behind. I think as Christians, we too easily support each other’s excuses because 1) we don’t want to be seen as condemning and 2) we don’t want to face our own selfishness. I know I often look down on people who are “living by the law” or seemingly judgmental (and there must be a balance). But, Jesus’ greatest commandment was to love him and each other… that’s the most important by far. So why don’t we support each other more in that endeavor? Selfishness only brings death to love. I can’t help but think what the church might look like if we actually held each other accountable for loving each other… maybe my excuses would fade and love might actually take root and lives would be changed…
    Thanks for making me think, Nelson : )

  5. Laura Joseph said:

    I agree that “Everybody knows this story so well” that we can easily miss the meaning. The footwashing episode shows what Philippians 2:5-11 teaches! The Son of Man, knowing that He had come from God and was returning to Him, and that the Father had given Him all things, does exactly the opposite of what such honor and authority deserved. (It always has suprised me that He doesn’t say, “As I have loved you, so you must love Me” but rather “As I have loved you, love one another”.) Instead of being served, he serves, and that, a service that only a slave would perform, washing the feet of guests. The point of the story seems to be that honor and authority are best demonstrated through service. After all, this is the one who said “the greatest among you should be the servant of all”. Peter’s discomfort recognizes the counter-intuitive nature of Jesus’ act. Most of us, like Peter, not only balk at the humility of serving others but sometimes also being served by others.

  6. Nelson, I think you heading the right way when you can realize that you might be a hindrance rather than a help to someone’s salvation. You can browbeat and coax someone ‘into the kingdom’ or you can plant the seeds that we’re called to plant and pray for God to save the person. Naturally, you don’t plant and run but ask for wisdom in how much or little to say.

    And this kind of work does seem anti-climactic; waiting and praying rather than conversing and cajoling. But Christ himself, as you show here, knew when it was good to be anti-climactic rather than over-dramatic. He knew what people needed for a true conversion.

  7. Robin said:

    It is even more impactful to me that Jesus humbled himself to wash the apostles’ feet in light of the fact that one of them would be his “killer”, so to speak. And Peter would say he didn’t know him when asked. How do you learn the kind of love that leads you to take care of people who you know are going to (or have done) you wrong? It’s easy to love the loveable, but what about loving those who hurt you?

    At camp last week we focused on Ephesians 5:1-16, which starts out “Be imitators of God”. I guess that’s how we learn humility…by looking at and imitating the actions of God, present in the life of Jesus, and exemplified in things like footwashing. It’s a constant attitude of imitation of Him, in the hope that we will then become like him.

  8. In addition to serving others who would wind up “failing” him and deserting him, Jesus did this knowing the disciples could never return the gesture. It’s so easy to do someone a favor knowing they can repay you later but this was something that could never be mirrored.

  9. Justin said:

    A great reminder Nelson. We all do need to push our selfishness aside and serve others. However for every person that seriously needs to be served there are three who will abuse your humility and treat you like a door mat. Where is the line between service and abuse?

    • Nelson Shake said:

      When it comes to serving there is no “however.” It’s a way of life that people can either adopt or leave behind. I don’t know about this 75% rate of people taking advantage of servants’ hearts, but that can be a very negative righteous outlook. An attitude, set of expectations, and trust like that in our fellow man will only hinder us from being completely selfless and serving with our entire being. Christ served non-stop, even to people that eventually took advantage of him. It happened to him. It will happen us. It’s part of life.

      But in answer to your question, the line is drawn only after you’ve given your best effort, which means you should stick around and have faith that the person will make a change (that type of shift doesn’t occur overnight). If, at the first instance of somebody abusing your servitude, you drop him/her like a sack of bricks, walk away, and never look back, then you were never intentional about serving him/her in the first place. Dedication is needed. It is only upon repeated abusive behavior that you need to begin considering moving on, but until then, build that person up with as much service and encouragement as you can because you may very well be the only one in that person’s life who does that for him/her.

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