The Missing Towel

The other morning I arrived in my office and was greeted by the church’s maintenance man.  He said, “Pastor, can I talk to you.”  I said, “Sure, what’s going on?”  It was at this moment I noticed he was carrying a bucket of water and a towel.  He asked me to sit down.  I did so, thinking the reason for the bucket was due to his having been working on something.  However, he knelt down in front of me and began taking off my shoes!  I have to admit that took me off guard.  I naturally asked, “What are you doing?”  His simple response- “I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do.”  He then proceeded to wash my feet.  I have only had my feet washed a few times in my life (in the sense of an act of servanthood that is) and I’ve always felt uncomfortable each time.

First of all, (and let’s face it) feet are gross.  Also, it’s just strange to have someone washing your feet- what if they stink, what if I have a hole in my sock, etc.?  But washing feet in the time of Jesus was a common occurrence.  There were no asphalt or concrete paved roadways in that day and place.  The streets were dusty and sandals were the common footwear.  The custom was to wash the feet of a guest before they entered your home.  This was a sign of basic hospitality. Recall that while Jesus was dining in the home of a Pharisee, a woman came up to Jesus with costly ointment and anointed his feet as well as washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair.  The Pharisee was appalled that Jesus would allow a woman with a sinful reputation to do this. However, Jesus gently reprimanded the Pharisee for not offering Him water to have His feet washed.

Washing the feet of another in Jesus day was clearly an act of humility and servanthood.  According to John’s Gospel, during the Last Supper, Jesus rose, took a basin of water and a towel, and began washing the feet of His disciples.  When He came to Peter, he refused saying, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (John 13:6).  Peter thought it was beneath the dignity of Jesus to wash the feet of others. After all, washing feet was the job of servants, not teachers.  But that was exactly the point.  Jesus served His disciples through a humble act as an example that they should do the same for others.  Matt. 20:28- “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Our maintenance man’s act of humble service got me thinking about the way I serve others.  Life for me is lived at a fairly frenetic pace.  Family and church keep me very busy.  In fact, most days simply do not have enough hours in them for me to get everything done.  And I know many of you reading this have similar schedules.  Yet, we cannot allow busy lifestyles to keep us from serving others.  Acts of service keep us humble and grounded in the truth that a life pleasing to God cannot be led in self-absorption.  Jesus’ life models for us the life of a servant and is certainly His expectation of us all.  As my friend said who washed my feet, “I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do.”  Jesus tells all of us to think and do for others, not just ourselves.

I want to challenge you this week to look for opportunities to serve others.  Do something that breaks you away from your busyness or routine.  Do something for someone you haven’t done in a long time.  Do something that conventional thinking might say is “beneath” you.  I once read the story of someone who visited a replica of the Upper Room where Jesus and His disciples ate the Last Supper.  Everything was put together in great detail to reflect what the first century room would have looked like.  Upon close examination, however, there was one thing missing: the towel.  Each of us must be intentional to ensure that the towel, the item used to humbly serve the disciples in that room, is not missing from our lives.



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One Response to “The Missing Towel”

  1. I have also had my feet washed at a service in a ( Southern Baptist) church. It was done by my pastor and I also felt uncomfortable mainly because I felt that I wasn’t worthy of such an act. However, I then washed the feet of others and felt the wonderful feeling of servitude. Sometimes leaving our comfort zone leads us to wonderful places.