John 13:12-17; 1 Peter 4:7-11
Friends enjoy doing favors for each other. Friends don’t do favors just to have favors done in return. But, they do know that they will receive favors - because friends do return kind deeds. But with friends, there is never a sense of manipulation. You know what I mean by manipulation, don’t you? A manipulator is someone who does you a favor when it is convenient for them and then, in a short time, calls you back and says, "Remember when I did you that favor? Well, now I need you to return it." After a while people quit accepting that person’s favors, because they always come with a price tag.
Jesus just did a favor for his disciples in John 13. Thirteen hungry men with dirty feet are gathered for a meal. Jesus does the service of taking a towel and basin of water and getting on his hands and knees to wash their feet. He humbles himself to serve them. He does them a favor.
What is the next step? If he is like some people he would say, "Hey guys, remember the favor I did for you? Well, now I want you to do me a favor." But Jesus doesn’t resort to manipulation. He does make a demand: he does place a heavy burden of the Gospel upon them. But it is not manipulation. V.12b-16: "Do you understand what I have done for you? Now that I ... have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." Jesus doesn’t look for any favors to be done for him. His whole focus is ... "I have served you. Now you serve others."
This is a nice saying. Whenever the story of the washing of feet is recited, this part of the story is read. "I did you a good deed, now you do others a good deed." But this is not nice saying. If we think this is nice, we don’t understand it. There is nothing pleasant about it. This is a challenge. A challenge that if we understand and accept, will push us farther than we would ever care to go on our own in ministering to other people.
"I have set you AN example ..." Jesus said. "This is ONE example of my service to others," Jesus said. And his example of service to others continues later in this story. Jesus serves until it kills him. This is not an example of doing each other nice little favors. This is a story about dying for each other. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
Remember about 20 years ago the plane that crashed landing in Washington D.C.? It was riding low and landed in the water, so not all of the passengers died on impact. It was winter time, and a number of passengers could be seen floating in the icy waters. One man couldn’t be content with just watching from the bank and waiting for boats. He jumped into the water, grabbed people, and swam to the shore with them. He managed to save the lives of several people. Finally, when he came to the bank with the last person, he sank under the water. Exhaustion and cold overtook him. He sank. He drowned. He saved the lives of several people, but he died himself. He lost his own life. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
Remember almost 8 years ago when planes crashed into the World Trade Towers? While thousands of people were rushing out of the buildings, policemen and firefighters were rushing in. They were going in to save lives. They were going to serve the needs of the people who were trapped inside. Then a horrible thing happened ... the buildings collapsed. Many of the people trapped inside and killed were ... policemen and firefighters who went inside voluntarily. They saved the lives of other people. They served people they didn’t even know. But they died themselves.
Most of us will NEVER be called upon to jump into icy waters and pull people out of the water. Most of us will NEVER be called upon to rush into burning buildings and pull people out of the fire. But all of us are still called to wash feet. To give of ourselves. To serve others. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."