I remember the job that always went to the new guys when I was in the Air Force. We had a notorious problem with the big birds that seemed to like to congregate on the lattice above the patio behind our building. Needless to say, they often left a mess. Someone had to clean it all up. Of course no one wanted that job, so it always went to the new guy.
A long time ago, Jesus did a job no one else wanted to do. After settling down in the room, Jesus must have noticed that they were all pretty dusty and grimy. Back in those days, people usually traveled on foot. They wore sandals instead of shoes. Imagine how dirty their feet must have gotten! I remember going for a walk up Mt Wantastiquet, which was right across the river from Brattleboro, Vermont. I was wearing one of those heavy-duty sandals. After the four hour trip, we went home and I took my sandals off. Dirt and grime were caked on my ankles, and I don't even want to talk about what had collected between the toes. I went up to the bathtub and cleaned up.
I can only imagine what the disciples' feet must have looked like. In those days, it was customary to have your feet washed when you were a guest in someone else's home. Like cleaning up bird residue, it was a job no one else wanted. The job always went to the lowest servant. It was sort of like the job that always goes to the new guy. I don't know if the servants were on vacation or they just hadn't gotten to it yet, but no one had washed their feet.
What happened next must have sent waves of shock through the disciples. Jesus took off his outer garment, girded his loins, took a basin of water, and began to wash everyone's feet! I try to imagine Jesus doing the lowest job, the job that no one wants. I tried to imagine Jesus, the leader, teacher, king, Lord of lords, out there scooping up bird droppings on the back patio, and it just didn't quite sit right. I can understand Peter's reaction. This was not a job for someone like Jesus.
After Jesus finished, he said
"Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you (John 13:12-15)."
I often say that every Christian is a minister. This is the stuff that ministry is made of. John is the only Gospel that records this incident. John, along with is brother James, wanted to sit at Jesus' left and right and rule with him (Mark 10:35ff). I can imagine that Jesus made a great impact on them in the upper room. Perhaps that is why John wrote it down. It is not about gaining preeminence; it is about doing simple ministry, just as Jesus demonstrated. The heart of a servant doesn't say, "Is this beneath me?" Instead, it says, "What can I do?"