The Greatest is the One Who Serves

Holy Week Ponderings: Thursday.

The nickname for this day of Holy Week is Maundy Thursday, which is kind of a curious word. It is likely a corruption of the Latin word for commandment in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another…” The Latin word mandatum must be hard for us normal people to remember so it’s been shortened to maundy. Probably because someone was lazy and didn’t want to remember such a long word.

It was the day Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples during what is known as the Last Supper. An intimate dinner with just His closest friends in a quiet upper room of a house in Jerusalem. It is an event-filled evening where He demonstrates what will become communion in the future, foretells His death, points out Judas as the betrayer, prays so intensely He drips blood from His brow, and is arrested.

Paradigm Stripped

Of the four New Testament Gospels, only John records the incident where Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. While He washed the disciples feet, Jesus lowered Himself to the position of being a servant. I love that John says this about Jesus, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.” (John 13:1)

Of all the situations the disciples had been in with Jesus, this is the one John singles out as displaying the “full extent of His love.” That is so curious to me. Serving them by stripping virtually naked and doing what is essentially slave work to exemplify that the greatest isn’t the leader out front, but the one who serves.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus asks in John 13:12. It may not have been immediately clear so He adds, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” He challenged them to look at life another way. The twelve disciples had just been quibbling about who was greatest, and Jesus’ action threw that argument out the window. Lowering yourself off your high horse and becoming a servant displays greatness.

Kind of a paradigm shift. Slightly! “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:15, 17) Jesus had never quite served them in such a humiliating way before, but needed to show how we must serve in humbling ways to show love for the people He came to save. The “full extent of His love” meant He was the most serving example possible for us to learn from.


An Illuminating Illustration

The moon has no light of it’s own…it only shines reflected light from the sun. We only shine when we reflect light from the Son. Jesus displayed a truth his followers were unaccustomed to: being a servant to others allows them to see the Father’s light in the service.

We can only reflect what we take in from the light shined down upon us. Jesus showed us how to live in humility. We can reflect the tangible quality of humility, OR NOT. It is something we continually need to observe, learn about and put into practice. Reflecting means we are affected by this unaccustomed truth. Oh, we like our positions and titles, but Jesus calls us to release those in favor of giving ourselves to serve others.

He lowered Himself to become a servant, and He challenged the disciples to do likewise. It’s a big mental shift. But He set the pattern before asking us to follow it. I admire that about Jesus. And I love that most of the disciples embraced that pattern…eventually. May you have an opportunity to serve someone on Servant Thursday.

Photo by Mick Haupt ©2001 | Shot on slide film, Canon A2  Nassau, Bahamas

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