Today, if you showed up for supper or a visit at a friend’s house, about the last thing you’d expect would be the offer of a pan of water and a towel. If your friend were to point down toward your feet and say, “Here you go; kick off those shoes and give those dirty puppies a quick bath,” you’d probably consider that a sign of significant mental decline.
Back in the time of Jesus and his buddies, when miles of foot travel was very ordinary, you’d expect it as the least bit of common courtesy, as well as a symbol of hospitality. And, if you were visiting a person of some means, you’d further expect a servant on hand to take care of the washing and drying for you.
So, when Jesus gets up from the Passover feast, strips off his outer robing, picks up a pan of water and wraps a towel around his waist, you’d quickly recognize the significance of that act. “Holy Moses, Jesus! That’s a servant’s role! You’re the Son of God! What are you doing?!”
“What I’m doing,” he could respond as he’s kneeling down and removing your shoes, “is doing exactly what you should do for one another. Don’t you remember me saying about forty-eleven times that whoever would be great among you must be your servant?”
While I’ve never seen that as part of a Maundy Thursday event or an annual Communion Commemoration, I do sometimes see things that remind me of that poignant aspect when the Son of Man knelt and washed the feet of his own followers.
I saw it after our annual Christmas luncheon for our Hospital Auxiliary workers earlier this week. While most folks chatted their way out of the room and on to the rest of their day, a few others set right in to work clearing off the tables. Our nursing director started picking up the glasses and cups. She emptied them out and then set the glasses in the carrying tray from the cafeteria. Other people collected plates from the table and carried them to the back of the room.
At some point, I looked back and saw our Human Resources manager kneeling on the floor beside the cart where the used plates were being stacked. She took each plate, scraped the leftovers into a small trash can and then set the plate on the cart. She didn’t quit until all forty plates had been cleared. I couldn’t help but think about what the Carpenter had said about greatness being demonstrated in the humility of serving others.
I find it inspiring when people do things that other people would probably think was “beneath them.” When supervisors and administrators help cooks and custodians. When cooks and custodians help strangers. When CEO’s stop to pick up a piece of trash in the grass or a gum wrapper from the floor. When a policeman ties a kid’s shoe. When an executive notices a few drops of spilled coffee in the hallway, finds a napkin or tissue and wipes it up. When a maintenance worker holds a door open for a visitor. When volunteers who’ve already volunteered for hundreds of hours spend a few more minutes helping clean up a room.
These aren’t people posing for a camera, staging a photo op, or pretending to be humble. This is the real deal.
Someone has said “It’s amazing how much gets done when no one cares who gets the credit for it.” I think it’s also amazing how much gets done when no one thinks they’re too good to do it. Those are the kind of people I like to hang out with.