Today’s reading is John 13:1-20 (NIV):

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet.

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus Predicts His Betrayal.

18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’

19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

Growing up, I spent my most memorable summers on the Highway Above the Clouds. Camp Desoto, Lookout Mountain, Mentone, Alabama 35984. Caught between elementary and high school, my hair was short, my tennis shoes muddy, and my teeth bright with braces. Every summer, I canoed to Gypsy Rock, danced at Assembly, shot archery in the Fourth of July Fair, told stories over s’mores, led sports teams, caught frogs, scraped my legs, sang songs, and ate peanut butter and honey ice cream after lunch on Sundays. From the Enchanted Forest to Hut Row, I was admired for my tomboy spunk and foursquare skills. I had friends in every cabin and camp life under my thumb. So, one year, I decided to star in the camp-wide musical.

I don’t remember the name of the play. I can’t even recall the storyline. All I know is that, in her dramatic debut, Lauren Spohn, queen of summer camp, played the role of a maid. No solos, no soliloquies, no lines. In the middle of Act Two, I ran onstage in a flock of other servants and promptly exited stage left at the end of the scene.

I packed my trunk and rode down the mountain that year in a sour mood. My hard-earned summer camp clout was shot! For all my badges, I was nothing but a supporting role, a minor character consigned to dramatic drudgery while another girl stole the spotlight. Stuck in a servant’s part, I was vain enough to feel humiliated. I had fallen into the trap the disciples spring in John 13; I had come to equate my role with my worth.

As Jesus and his disciples sat down to share the Passover meal, no disciple offered to wash Jesus’ feet, let alone one another’s. Luke 22:24 tells us that the disciples had just disputed about who among them was the greatest. Perhaps each man believed himself the most savvy camper of the group, and facing grimy toes and menial work, no one felt eager to play a supporting role in the Last Supper scene. Thankfully, Jesus wrote himself into the action to remind us of the story’s point.

Wrapping a servant’s towel around his waist, the Creator of the universe bent down to cleanse the dusty feet he knew would flee from him later that night. The depth of Christ’s humility in this passage is difficult to grasp; if the Almighty stooped to such drudgery, who are we to think anything on Earth beneath us! “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,” Jesus claims, “you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Far from imagining ourselves too important for a minor role in a summer camp play, we are called to join Christ in loving, gracious drudgery. We are meant to serve our brothers and sisters, even when the world mistakes our humility for humiliation.

Our inability to separate work from worth, however, frequently keeps us from following Christ’s example. Unlike Jesus, we tend to take our duties personally. Playing a minor role means I’m a minor person. Doing mindless, unskilled, or unpopular service means I’m a mindless, unskilled, unpopular individual. The prestige of my work determines the bounds of my worth. But, so different from us, Christ never confuses his menial service with his personal value. Crucially, he changes his servant’s clothes and returns to his place at the table after he finishes washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:12). Even in the role of a servant, he is always aware of his identity as Lord and Teacher.

According to Oswald Chambers, an early-twentieth century Scottish evangelist and teacher, this distinction between work and worth is essential to the Christian life. We can persevere through drudgery—everyday life with its trivial, menial tasks—because who we are is not what we do. We are called to serve with the knowledge that we are not simply servants, but sons and daughters of Christ. Like Jesus, we can humble ourselves to drudgery because our value is not founded in the esteem of our work, but in our relationship to the Father. As Chambers poignantly writes, “Our Lord calls us to no special work—He calls us to Himself.”[1]

To illustrate this essential point, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet—not their hands. Practically, we would expect Christ to cleanse the part of the body that actually serves, the hands that eat, work, and interact with others in daily life. God, however, does not call us to earn our salvation through our works with our hands, but through our walk with Jesus. We were created to abide in a personal relationship with the Lord. If our feet are clean—if our heart and minds are in step with the heart and mind of Christ—our hands will follow.

Jesus often gives us the role of a maid. In life’s mundane drudgeries, we are called to surrender the pride built on our camp savvy and foursquare skills; we must frequently become minor characters in the service of a brother or sister’s spotlight. But we do not become the roles we play. With our feet in step with Christ, we can follow Jesus’ example with humility and grace, fortified with the confidence that our worth is found not in our work, but in Him.

[1] My Utmost for His Highest, 10/16

Lauren Spohn ’20 is a Freshman living in Holworthy.