I still remember that dirty disgusting job while in the Air Force. No one ever volunteered for it because it was perhaps the lowliest job one could have. In our squadron area, there were huge birds that would come and perch there. In the process they would leave behind huge droppings. Well, someone had to clean them up, so it became a regular part of the duty roster. The job always went to the new guy, the lowest guy on the totem pole. When another new guy came in, you could graduate on to bigger and better things.
There was a job like that in the Jewish household during the time of Jesus. When people traveled from place to place, they would get hot, sweaty, and dusty. In a culture where people sat on the floor, it was important to have clean feet. Therefore, someone had to wash the feet of those who came into the house. Feet in many cultures are considered the lowliest part of the body. In fact, in some cultures, it is an insult to if someone were to show you the soles of their feet. Jewish culture was not much different. As a result, people typically did not jump up and volunteer to wash people's feet. In fact, this was a job that was often too lowly for even Jewish slaves. If there were Gentile slave in a household, they normally got the job. To wash a part of the body such as the feet, especially feet that were hot, dirty, and stinky at that, was beneath most people.
Yet, in John 13, Jesus jumps up without being asked and begin washing his disciples feet! Can you imagine the surprise? Can you imagine the confusion, the awkwardness, the shock? When Jesus comes to Peter, Peter objects. I used to think that it was because Jesus was making himself lower than the Apostles. Peter would have none of this. But I now think it may have been the result of pride, not false humility. You see, the Apostles just a short time ago had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. In fact, they had this discussion on a number of occasions. They were ambitious and were looking for Jesus to be a great king, and they would serve with him as big-wigs in the kingdom. Then Jesus lowered himself lower than them by washing their feet? Wrong! Jesus did not lower himself lower than his disciples! In fact, to think that this reflects the pride that is so innate in our fleshly nature. Paul reminds us in Romans 12 that we should not think more highly of ourselves that we ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment.
Jesus reminded them, "…a slave is not greater than his master…" In other words, Jesus lowered himself to the level of the lowest of slaves, which makes his disciples even lower than this. Pride tries to keep me elevated so that when Jesus lowers himself to wash me, I uncomfortably feel like he has lowered himself beneath me. However, humility of sound judgment helps me to understand that I need to be more lightly esteemed than this. "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (1 Pet 5:6).