“…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 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.” (John 13:4-5)
The disciples were following along at some distance behind Jesus, having a heated discussion. When they arrived in their headquarters town of Capernaum he asked what they had been disputing about (Luke 9:46). They were embarrassed and didn’t want to tell him. But he knew they had been disputing which among them would be the greatest. He drew a child to his side and explained that he who is least is the one who is great in his Kingdom. In a church, too. Or ministry team.
Now we follow with them on their way up to Jerusalem where Christ was to make the supreme sacrifice. He had told them repeatedly he must die, but they rejected the idea of a suffering servant so weren’t hearing him. The mother of James and John, with her two sons in tow, asked for top cabinet rank for each of them (Matthew 20:20; Mark 10:35 ff.). How did the others respond to that idea? Especially after Jesus had rejected the request? Were they understanding and spiritual about it? After all, the mother and her sons were relatives of Jesus and the disciples understood near eastern culture and family obligations. But no, they were angry! Why? Perhaps each of them wanted the top rank and were offended that these two were muscling in ahead of them?
Jesus took the occasion to explain that if they were to be in his company, they must all be servants. They reached Jerusalem and were gathered for the last meal together. Someone should have volunteered to wash the dusty feet so that the person reclining next would not have to eat in uncomfortable circumstances. It was traditionally the youngest, the lowest in rank who should have volunteered. No one did.
The lesson on the child and the servant somehow had never gotten through. The meal began with dirty feet and then they got into the same old dispute. This time it was not over who would rule, but who would serve (Luke 22:24-27). Finally, Jesus himself took the servant’s basin and towel and demonstrated the way rank was to work in his Church. Why were they in this enterprise? For what they would get out of it. Their motive was love for self. Didn’t they have any compassion for others? They wanted to call down fire on those who rejected them or were inhospitable. They wanted to bar from preaching those who had been to the wrong seminary. They had no time for women and children, the weak and oppressed. Oh, they loved God and his glory, his Name and Kingdom. Especially, they loved Jesus. But above all they loved themselves and were in it for what they would get out of it. A disciple can give generously, witness faithfully, work up an ulcer serving God, even lay down life on a distant mission field from love of self.
Most of us operate at the level of self-interest most of the time, according to the researchers. But there’s a higher motive. What is the commission Christ gave? Who did he set as our model? “As the Father sent me…” said Jesus. And what was the Father’s motive?
For God so loved the world….
Jesus, Paul, and John concur: the dominating motive in the Father’s sending was love for lost and hopeless people. Is that why you came to minister? Is that why you stay in your ministry, your job, your marriage?