In the days when television was a luxury we could not afford, we sat on the linoleum floor around my great-grandmother’s rocking chair and listened to her tell stories.
Some were from her life, others from the Bible. In the evenings, when the aroma of the supper meal still wafted through the house, she would pick up her Bible and read to herself before relaying the story to us.
As she read silently, we often saw her shoulders move up and down and heard laughter as she moved her fingers across the pages of the worn Bible. She seemed to get most tickled when she read the gospels and Peter was the object of Jesus’ correction.
“Lord, that Peter,” she said, “always got something to say!”
Perhaps that expression came as she read in John 13 the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet — in Jesus’ day, something only the lowliest servant would do.
Jesus came to Peter — the disciple who knew Jesus was the Son of God, who was with Jesus on the mountain during the transfiguration, who acknowledged his own sin when Jesus called him to become His disciple — this same disciple said to Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet.”
But even though Jesus knew what would happen in the future — Judas Iscariot would betray Him, Peter would deny Him — still He washed their feet to teach them how to humbly serve one another.
There are other places in the Scriptures where He taught them about being a servant, but in John 13 Jesus demonstrated it and then called them to servanthood.
“When He had washed their feet ... He said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet’” (John 13:12-14, ESV).
My great-grandmother lived in the Jim Crow South. African Americans were disrespected and treated poorly, no matter what their age. But she learned from the Scriptures what it meant to wash another’s feet.
When they looked down on her or called her the N-word, she washed her perpetrators’ feet with a kind word or a smile.
When the least-liked woman in our community came to my grandparents’ house every day at mealtime, my great-grandmother washed her feet with a meal at our table and a plate to take home.
She knew what it meant to be a servant, and she was blessed because she served.
We live in a day when people everywhere are clamoring for power and position. We are self-centered and self-absorbed — even in the body of Christ. So often we are the opposite of servants.
Jesus taught the disciples who walked with Him during His earthly ministry by precept and example. “For even the Son of Man [Jesus] came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45, ESV).
Because of Jesus, my great-grandmother knew how to serve others regardless of how poorly they treated her.
When others treat you poorly, how will you choose to react? With soul-poisoning hatred and violence and bitterness?
The other option is harder, yet infinitely more healing and rewarding.
Jesus offers us the only antidote to hate — love. Jesus lived and sacrificially died that love. That selfless, serving love that washed the feet of His betrayer and the feet of the one who denied Him. And in Luke 6:27-28 (ESV) Jesus calls us to that same serving love.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Will you choose to love and serve those who persecute you, as Jesus and my great-grandmother did?
If you love and serve those who treat you poorly, you will be serving God.
And God promises, “Your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35, ESV).
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