John 13.3-5 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet
The 19th Century painter Ford Maddox Brown painted the scene described in our gospel reading featuring a semi-naked Jesus kneeling at Peter’s feet with just a towel around his waist. It caused such an outrage that he had to repaint it with Jesus wearing a tunic; even then the picture was shunned by many, as indeed was Brown himself who was never accepted as a bona-fide Pre-Raphaelite.
Jesus’ action in the Upper Room was equally shocking to the disciples and especially so for Peter who recoiled at the prospect of Jesus humiliating himself by kneeling down and washing his feet as a servant. At the time Peter could not fully grasp what Jesus was doing but when challenged by Jesus, whatever it was, he wanted it in abundance. With Peter it was always all or nothing!
The servanthood that Jesus models for us in the gospels is never passive or reactive but always active and prophetic – confronting injustice, speaking out and speaking truth, engaging, challenging, equipping, empowering. Jesus’ confidence in such radical servant leadership was because ‘he knew that God had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God’.
Rooted in the confidence that Christ gives us as Lord and Saviour we too are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, ‘washing one another’s feet,’ exercising servant leadership, transforming the world.