If you’ve never read through the gospels in chronological order, I encourage you to find a chronological Bible or a listing of the harmony of the gospels and read the life of Jesus in order. Each gospel writer emphasized different aspects of Jesus’ ministry, often grouping circumstances together for effect. Reading in chronological order reveals many instances where Jesus’ reaction becomes much more meaningful knowing what preceded his teaching.
For example, we are all familiar with John’s account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. We know Jesus is telling us to be servants. But there’s more to it than that. According to Luke, an argument preceded that act. The disciples were arguing among themselves (again) which of them was the greatest. That’s when Jesus gets up, disrobes, ties a towel around his waist and begins to wash their feet.
I believe it’s difficult for us who live in a free society to fully understand the impact of this scene. We’ve grown up with the idea that we’re all equal. Others may have more power and privilege, but that’s different than a culture where slavery is the norm, where someone is your master and holds absolute authority over you, commanding your absolute fear and respect. We don’t call anyone Master or Lord. Yet, during the meal with Jesus, the disciples called Him Master, Lord. Then, they start bickering.
Suddenly their Master and Lord gets up and takes his clothes off, dresses like a slave and performs a service that was assigned to only the lowliest of servants. No wonder Peter objected! This was no way for a Lord and Master to act!
At last, Jesus finished. He got dressed, returned to the table and looked each one of them in the eye. “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” Then, Jesus told them to demonstrate their grasp of the lesson by doing the same thing to each other. Not arguing about who was greater, but lowering themselves to a slave’s position to wash each others’ feet. “No servant is greater than his master,” Jesus continued, “nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” In other words, drop the attitude, guys, and follow the example I just set for you.
It’s a humbling passage. I doubt I’d have fully understood the impact without knowing what brought it on. Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years. We disciples are still bickering and arguing, trying to have it our way. I wonder what impact we’d have as Christians if we slid down off our high horse, dropped our attitude and washed a few feet.
It’s worth a try!
“No servant is greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him.” John 13:16