As Jesus prepared to wash His disciples’ feet, He did not say, “Men, I am now going to demonstrate servanthood—watch my humility.” No way. That kind of pride-on-parade was the trademark of the Pharisees.
If you wondered whether they were humble, all you had to do was hang around them awhile. Sooner or later they would announce it . . . which explains why Jesus came down so hard on them (take a quick look at Matthew 23!).
Unlike those pious frauds, the Messiah slipped away from the table without saying a word. He quietly pulled off His outer tunic, and with towel, pitcher, and pan in hand, He moved silently from one man to the next.
Of course, they weren’t sitting as they are portrayed in Leonardo da Vinci’s work The Last Supper. All due respect for that genius, but he missed it when he portrayed the biblical scene through Renaissance eyes.
Those men were not sitting in ladderback, dining room chairs all on one side of a long table!
In those days, people reclined at a meal, actually leaning on one elbow as they lay on their side on a small, thin pad or on a larger rug covering the floor. The table was a low, rectangular block of wood upon which the food was placed.
And they ate with their hands, not utensils. This position meant that if your feet were not clean, your neighbor was very much aware of it. It would be impossible to ignore a face full of dirty feet.
By the time Jesus reached Peter, I am sure most of the small talk had dwindled. The men now realized their wrong. Guilt had begun to push its way into their hearts.
Peter must have drawn his feet up close to him when he shook his head and said, in effect, “No! Not my feet. Never, ever, ever will you wash my feet, from now ‘til eternity!”
This reveals a second principle about having a gentle and humble heart: being a servant includes receiving graciously as well as giving graciously.
Peter wasn’t about to be that vulnerable. After all, Jesus was the Master. No way was He going to wash the dirt off Peter’s feet! I ask you, is that humility? You know it’s not.
Being willing to receive usually takes more grace than giving to others. And our reluctance to do so really exposes our pride, doesn’t it?