I squirmed in my seat as I watched the drama unfold on our TV. The scene was disturbing, to say the least. I don’t remember the plot of the movie but I remember that scene.
A well dressed white woman opens the door to her luxurious apartment to find an indigenous woman standing in the hall. There is a long awkward moment before she finally invites her in. She sits on the edge of a dainty chair. The white woman looks down at the woman’s feet, clad in ragged sandals. Her feet are bleeding. The white woman disappears for a moment and returns with a newspaper. The indigenous woman raises her feet without a sound as the white woman places the newspaper under the bloodied sandals.
I could not help but think of that scene when, later in life, I read John 13 for the first time. It’s another scene that perhaps should make us all squirm, as no doubt it did the disciples of Christ that night. Jesus “laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet …” (John 13:4.5, ESV).
The contrast between these two scenes is stark. One reveals a shocking callousness, a hardness of heart, while the other reveals a shocking concern, a compassion that speaks volumes about the one holding the towel.
Imagine the scene that played out in that upper room over 2,000 years ago:
The silence as Jesus, the revered teacher, removed his outer tunic, revealing the short inner one, which in the minds of the disciples meant Jesus stood naked before them.
The gasp they no doubt gave when he tied the towel around his waist, the act of a servant.
The sound of the water being poured into the basin, the disciples no doubt wondering what on earth he intended to do.
Their astonishment would have been complete when he likely got down on his knees before them and washed their feet. No wonder Peter protested. This was a scandalous act, incomprehensible to them, that their master should make himself their servant. It was a demonstration of the love He then commanded from them – a scandalous love that went beyond any convention, beyond their normal experience.
It is telling, too, that the scriptures record that “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper …” (John 13:3,4, ESV). It was because Jesus knew who He was that He could, without hesitation, humble Himself before His disciples.
It is only when we understand who we are, children of this same God, and indwelt with His Spirit, that we too are capable of such humility, compassion, and love.
In His Spirit we are able to follow the example of Jesus, rather than the example of a callous woman who showed no sympathy.
The comparison is telling. Which one will you emulate?