I was recently reading John 13, and it occurred to me that maybe I've been taught this passage incorrectly all my life.
It seems as though I grew up with the notion that there was a servant who traditionally came and did the washing of the feet, and that for some reason or another, this servant never showed up.
It seems as though I grew up with the notion that the disciples sat looking at one another with expressions of disdain, wondering which of them would choose to take on the job of that servant, and that Jesus, seeing that none of them was willing, stepped forward and did the job.
Perhaps I was never taught those things; perhaps I just assumed them. Or perhaps they were simply implied in the teaching I received.
Regardless, upon re-reading the text of John 13, I'm not sure those assumptions are reasonable. In fact, there is no mention of a servant who didn't show up, nor is there any mention of any disciples thinking about who was going to wash the feet.
When we imagine the passage that way, I think we do a discredit to the demonstration of servanthood which Christ was giving his followers. I don't think Jesus waited long enough to see if one of the disciples would volunteer. I don't think he even waited long enough to find out if a servant would show up. Maybe a servant did show up, and was horrified to discover that Jesus was already doing his job for him!
Because no good servant waits to see if someone else will do his job for him. The servant dives in without hesitation, because the job needs to be done.
The scripture tells us that he simply got up from the table and did the job. And perhaps, as much as the fact that he was willing to do it, the fact that he did not seem to hesitate ought to be a lesson and an inspiration for me. "You also should do just as I have done to you," he tells us (John 13:15).
Don't wait for someone else to serve. Dive in first, and get your hands dirty before anyone else even has a chance to get started.
Did you know that Amazon.com occasionally sells products at a loss? It's true. They occasionally have items that they sell at a slight loss. If it costs them $10.00, they sell it for $9.50, losing $0.50 on each sale.
Why do they do this? Because they hope that customers who are attracted by that inexpensive price will be lured into putting something else into their shopping cart before they check out. And even if they don't buy something else, they've made one purchase, and a customer who has made one purchase is more likely to come back and make another later on.
It's an ulterior motive.
I do the same thing. One of my game websites has some free games. Why? It is my hope that people who come back day after day to play the free games will sooner or later say, "I wish I could play those other games," and then pay the subscription fee for the site.
It's an ulterior motive.
Ulterior motives are okay in the business world; it's part of what makes our system of business work. But ulterior motives have no place in the world of the church and the followers of Christ.
When Jesus's disciples were arguing about who was greatest (pick a passage, any passage -- this appears to have been a common argument!) Jesus said to them:
It would be easy for us to think "Oh! I'll be a servant, so I can be great!" But servanthood is not something we take on for the sake of gain; servanthood is, in itself, true greatness. Because servanthood is part of the character and nature of Christ (see Philippians 2:1-8)
Why did Jesus leave the glory of heaven for this miserable, broken world? It was not because he would one day be exalted for his service (see Philippians 2:9) but because of His great love for us.
So it must be with us; I shouldn't serve with an ulterior motive, seeking greatness in this life (if I do, I might be disappointed!). I should serve because of my love for Christ, because of my love for my fellow man, and because I desire to have the mind and attitude of Christ.