The Gospel of John includes a unique account of The Last Supper on Thursday of what we often call Holy Week. Though its most noteworthy action is Christ instituting the Communion meal as representative of The New Covenant, John’s account begins with Christ washing the disciples’ feet.
Here’s the opening of John 13:
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.
Though we aren’t able to know for sure, we have no indication here that Judas was excluded from the foot washing by Jesus. Meaning that not only was his betrayer served, but all of the disciples who would abandon him also had their feet washed by Jesus. The scene is so striking because all the disciples knew that Jesus was the most worthy person in the room to be served, yet he chose the opposite posture.
In Luke’s Gospel, the account of The Last Supper (Luke 22) continues on to include the Communion meal instituted by Christ. Immediately following this, something shifts among the disciples. Here’s how Luke describes it:
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.
But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”
Knowing this meal would be one of the last opportunities to teach his disciples, Jesus washes their feet as a way of showing what leadership looks like. Imagine knowing you had one final meal left before your death. Then imagine choosing to spend it with men who were either about to betray you or abandon you.
Yet, mere minutes after Jesus gives this shocking example, the disciples get into a debate about who is greatest. They completely missed what Jesus was teaching.
May we, like Jesus, embrace the opportunity to serve—”for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)—instead of trying to raise ourselves up.