In his classic book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” He’s not talking about faking it until you make it; he’s identifying a proven principle: Our behaviors shape us into the people we are becoming. If we want to be loving people, then we must love. So, then we need to ask the question, “What does love look like?”
Jesus answered this question on the night He was arrested. As He and His disciples were sharing the Passover meal, Jesus suddenly stood up and did a strange and beautiful thing: He laid aside his outer clothing and began washing his disciples’ feet. Foot washing was the work of a servant. Jesus had told his disciples before that he had come to earth to be a servant (Mark 10:45), but perhaps they did not fully understand until this moment. Foot washing is also an intimate and vulnerable act in which one person is exposed to another’s dirt and smell and soreness. Jesus’ action was so shocking to his disciples that Peter tried to tell him not to do it. But Jesus explained that it was not only a necessary act but also an example to the disciples. They were to wash one another’s feet—to become servants, just like Jesus.
Not long after this, while they were still at supper, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). I don’t think it’s an accident that this is one of the first things Jesus said after washing the disciples’ feet. I think he was telling them that this is what love looks like: humbling ourselves, doing thankless work, not shying away from the filth and pain of humanity.
Some churches during this season will commemorate Jesus’ words by literally washing one another’s feet. However, all of us can lay aside our rights as Jesus laid aside his garment and serve the people God has placed in our lives. Do you want to be a loving person? So do I. We can begin by acting as servants. May God give us the grace we need to do so.
Dr. William A. Horton