Jesus’ Humility at the Last Supper

When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he is preforming a parabolic act. As with parables, we need to understand the context in order to understand what Jesus was trying to teach through the washing of his disciples’ feet.

It is well-known that hospitality in the ancient world included foot-washing. Since virtually all travel was by foot, a visitor should be allowed to “refresh themselves” when they arrive by washing their feet. If the host had servants, the task of washing the guest’s feet fell to the lowliest servant. For a Jewish family, the task would be assigned to a Gentile slave (Köstenberger, John, 405). In this case, Jesus takes off his outer clothes and wraps himself in a long towel and does the job of the lowliest slave.

Since this is a Passover meal, it is likely that each of the disciples have washed their hands ceremonially before touching the food of the meal. My guess is that the feet would need to be washed since the are most likely to have come into contact with uncleanliness, the slave who washed the feet would therefore himself be unclean.

This is therefore a shocking act by a Jewish teacher prior to the Passover meal. Jesus’ humble service of his disciples is an illustration of how the disciples are to continue his work after the resurrection.

Said R. Joshua b. Levi, “All acts of labor that a slave performs for his master, a disciple of a sage performs for his master, except for removing his shoe.” b. Ketub. 96a (Neusner, b. Ketub. 11:1, I.2.A; 9:440)

Jesus is due the titles Teacher (Rabbi) and Lord. Even if we take the title Lord as equivalent to sir, both titles put Jesus well above the disciples socially. In a teacher-student relationship of the Second Temple Period, there was little a teacher could not ask his disciple to do for him. Yet Jesus reverses cultural expectations by doing an extremely humbling service for his disciples.

This is a pattern for the disciples to follow (v.15). The noun used here (ὑπόδειγμα) has the sense of a pattern, or model used for moral instruction. Jesus is saying this is an illustration of how you are to serve one another. This is not a pattern to be followed for worship, for example. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with practicing foot-washing in some Christian denominations, it is not an ordinance like the Lord’s Supper. To me this is analogous to saying the Lord’s Prayer. It is not particularly wrong, but misses Jesus point when he gave the prayer of an illustration of how to pray!

How do we serve as Jesus did? First, Jesus did not insist on his titles and honors. Ideally, Peter ought to have served Jesus, but Jesus radically reverses expectations and serves those who are socially lower than himself. If the Lord (and God) of the universe can get down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of those who owe him honor and loyalty, how ought we to serve?

Second, notice that he washes all the disciples’ feet, including Judas. He knew that Judas was the betrayer, yet he extended to him the same humble service that he gave the other “loyal” disciples. Jesus knew that Satan was about to enter Judas and he knew exactly what Judas was about to do, but he treated him in exactly the same way he did Peter or John.

That is remarkable to me. I have no problem humbly serving my family or my church family. But what about those who are outside the church? There are people who are outside of my normal circle who I do not serve, in fact, I sometimes treat them with contempt.

Jesus did not, he died for them as well.

10 thoughts on “Jesus’ Humility at the Last Supper

  1. Yes, this was a remarkable action. To me, as a lay “historical critical” student of the Bible and a follower of Jesus in a broader-than-traditional sense, it is also fascinating in its inclusion…. Says something interesting about at least one or more of the Jewish-Christian communities of post-destruction-of-Jerusalem days, and their apparent willingness (or determination?) to adapt a servant-leadership model of being a new religious community. Not to diminish the wisdom and “Christ-likeness” of the model, but perhaps there were few viable alternatives, with the traditional religious structures all “blown up”. Former hierarchies would have to be reconstructed. I imagine that played in.

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  2. Do you think that the setting was that of a triclinium? There seems to be a bit of “reclining” going on. Would the Jews celebrate the passover that way?

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  3. Mathew 20:28 says that “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In order to serve other like Jesus we must have this mentality. Many of us today want to put ourselves higher than others. We don’t want to lower our self because we won’t gain respect from others. Jesus was the only perfect to walk on earth, he had the most power to heal people, and raise the dead. Jesus however, spent every minute on earth serving others. Washing the disciples’ feet, even the feet of the one who would betray him. While watching the news this past Easter Sunday I noticed something that really caught my attention. Pope Francis traveled to prison and spent some time washing the prisoner’s feet. After reading this the question that I asked myself was how many of pastors of these mega churches are out there doing what the pope is doing. Humbling themselves to serve others. The answer is none. Despite what God has blessed us with, we must remember that he wants us to serve other with that blessing. As Christians we need to humbly ourselves and work to reach people out of our comfort zone. We must model our lives after Jesus Christ who lived each day to serve others.

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  4. This just shows how Great my Lord is! The one who deserves the power and the glory is the one that serves those who do not deserve it. There are so many people in this world that think that they deserve it all, but in reality the One who does deserve it all gives it back to those who do not deserve it. It is hard to love others the same and it is hard to serve people that I do not love. Seeing Jesus as the example shows what it means to live out my faith. If I love Him then by serving others I am serving Him which should be motivation to serve others even if they are not in my usual circle of people. I took a communication class and one of the things that I took away from it was that I need to put my best foot forward when communicating with others. Even though I can not get to know everyone on a deep level, just being intentional with people and getting to know people is the best kind of communication. I think that applies to serving others. It can be hard work to serve every single person but if I try to do my best even for a moment then it is better than giving them half of me for a long period of time. Philippians 2:3-8 talks about looking at the best interest of others instead of just looking to ourselves. God humbled himself before us to die for us, and to show our love for him, we must love and serve others.

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  5. Me personally, I feel that the story of Jesus washing feet at the Last Supper, shows how humble Jesus was and how humble Christians ought to be. We should be able to humble ourselves down to be a servant to others. I feel that our job on earth is to be a servant to others, just like how Christ was. Just like Phil Long talked about, usually most Christians have no problem with humbly serving their family and church family. The hard part is serving people outside of that. I think that it is sometimes human nature to try and pass the job of reaching those outside the church. I feel that the church is not only for Christians or the people that are members of the church, but it is also for the non-believers. One of the main jobs of the church should be to serve others. The church should serve people that are in the church and also those that are outside the church. If the non-believers do not come to the Christians, it is the Christians job to go to them and humbly serve them. I think that serving non believer us really important because it shows them that we as Christians are not better than them; we are all sinners. Even though the disciples were lower than Jesus, Jesus still served them in this case by humbly washing their feet. This story reminds me of a passage in the book of Matthew. Matthew 20:28 says “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” I think that all Christians are here to humbly serve others and for that to be done we should live out what Matthew 20:28 says.

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  6. Jesus came to serve, not to be served as it says in Matthew 20:28. He was able to serve those who did not deserve it, yet out of His love and goodness, he served them anyway. Just as Jesus served others, He has called us to serve others as well. It can be very difficult to serve others when they are not nice to us or even when they are not like us. The story of Jesus washing feet at the Last Supper reminds me to always be humble. I should not have that mentality that I am better than anyone else. I should be thinking of how I can help and serve my neighbor. God is above everyone else and yet He was able to humble himself and serve. Jesus served the disciples that time by washing their feet. I bet their feet had to be pretty dirty from walking around in sandals but He chose to lower himself and wash their feet. I think that we as Christians should always be ready and willing to serve others when there is a need no matter who the person is. It may be a bit uncomfortable helping someone you do not know or may not get along with but it matters to God. Not only should the church serve the body of Christ but also unbelievers. I feel that they are the ones who need to be shown kindness and love through whatever way they need to be helped. Matthew 5:16 says “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

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  7. I think that we should serve in the same way like Jesus did. Humbling ourselves not only in the way of washing feet, but also in every other area of our lives from our work to our home life. It’s not easy, but it definitely gives a person a new perspective on life when they do humble themselves before others. For example doing something nice for a person who does not like you at work; saying hi to them to ignoring them when/if they say something rude or trying to make your day more difficult.

    In the blog R. Joshua b. Levi, said “all active labor the slave for forms for his master, I disciple of a sage the forms for his master, except for removing his shoes”. (fill in later) I really like this quote because it shows that Christ went beyond what the world would do for others. On Sunday morning in our service my pastor had said that as Christians we are a strange type of people because we don’t act like the world does. Humility and meekness is a sign of weakness to the world and rejoicing in our suffering when we are persecution is strange as well. In the same way humbling ourselves before others and whatever aspect that looks like gets the attention of the world weather it is laughing, making our lives harder, or taking a closer look and wondering why we do what we do. I think this quotes draws the whole aspect of what Christ did and the fact that he became the lowliest servant just to show us what we need to do in the same way in our lives.

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  8. I appreciate these details on foot-washing. I often have this mentality that when Jesus began washing the feet of his disciples their reaction was a “Oh, gosh, Jesus you don’t have to do that. You’re so above us, you don’t have to do that…Have a seat, let the servants do it. Oh you insist? Oh alright, what a nice guy…” But this was the Son of God taking on a ceremonially unclean job, an incredible paradox. Even though he did not come to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17) Jesus is already demonstrating the importance of service humility over the tradition of the law, similar to Luke 14:5. If your kid or your livestock falls in a pit, yes you should break the Sabbath to pull them out! It sets the stage nicely for Paul, who also doesn’t abolish the law, but merely puts it in its place.

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  9. I think that we should serve in the same way like Jesus did. Humbling ourselves not only in the way of washing feet, but also in every other area of our lives from our work to our home life. It’s not easy, but it definitely gives a person a new perspective on life when they do humble themselves before others. For example doing something nice for a person who does not like you at work; saying hi to them to ignoring them when/if they say something rude or trying to make your day more difficult.

    In the blog R. Joshua b. Levi, said “all active labor the slave for forms for his master, I disciple of a sage the forms for his master, except for removing his shoes”. (Neusner, b. Ketub. 11:1, I.2.A; 9:440) I really like this quote because it shows that Christ went beyond what the world would do for others. On Sunday morning in our service my pastor had said that as Christians we are a strange type of people because we don’t act like the world does. Humility and meekness is a sign of weakness to the world and rejoicing in our suffering when we are persecution is strange as well. In the same way humbling ourselves before others and whatever aspect that looks like gets the attention of the world weather it is laughing, making our lives harder, or taking a closer look and wondering why we do what we do. I think this quotes draws the whole aspect of what Christ did and the fact that he became the lowliest servant just to show us what we need to do in the same way in our lives.

    Like

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