A little time ago, while praying, I had an image of Jesus washing my feet. He looked up and asked: “What sort of leader do you want to be?”
I had such a strong sense that I wanted to be kneeling beside Jesus, loving and serving others – while at the same time knowing how poor I am at doing this.
I have been pondering this story ever since (John 13). It takes place before the Last Supper, on the night when Judas leaves to betray Jesus. Then I realised that Jesus washed Judas’ feet alongside all the other disciples. Loving and serving people I like is a bit of a challenge. Loving and serving someone who has harmed, or is about to, harm me – that’s a whole other ball game.
As I think about the image of Jesus kneeling to wash the, doubtless, not very beautiful feet of his disciples, including his betrayer, I realise that in this act, Jesus combines both love and holiness, in the most extraordinary way.
In Galatians, Paul writes of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
This fruit grows in us as we mature as Christians – but it is actually a description of the character of the Holy Spirit and so shows us what holiness looks like in human beings. And Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, is the one who perfectly demonstrates love and holiness throughout his life.
I think we often think that love and holiness are in conflict. But if holiness looks like the humility of Jesus, the vulnerability of Jesus, the forgiveness of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus, the purity of Jesus that heals and purifies the unclean – then these two characteristics are actually one.
And so the King of heaven, who is our Lord and our God, kneels and washes his disciples’ feet. And Jesus is asking each one of us – “Who do you want to be?”