Wrapped in a Towel


My wife and I are about to launch a new component to our ministry. It will involve a number of services to newcomers to Canada, and we want to call it, nABL (pronounced, “enable”, but an acronym that describes what we will do: newcomer assistance, Bible and language.) Our slogan is, “Live to serve.”

The quintessential New Testament text in which living to serve is taught is John 13. In this passage we are taken into the upper room, where Jesus met to eat the Passover meal with His disciples on the night of His arrest. You may recall how He removed his clothes and wrapped Himself in a towel, then went around the room and washed his disciples’ filthy, smelly, calloused feet. Scholars tell us that the washing of feet was reserved for the lowest-ranking slave in a household, and Peter, knowing this, objected loudly to Jesus’ humiliating act : “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (Joh 13.6)

But the striking thing about this text is what John says in verses 3 to 5:

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

Jesus had been with His disciples for three years, and there had been many opportunities to wash their feet, which were perpetually dirty. But He chose this moment, knowing that the Father had now given all things into His hands,  to teach the ultimate lesson on servanthood. (He spoke of this authority just before His ascension, when He commissioned the disciples in Mat 28.18-20: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”) Jesus was modeling true leadership, and told His men, “For I have given you an example, that you also should  do just as I have done to you.” (v. 15)

Even after this astonishing display, the disciples just didn’t get it. Luke records that right after the seder–having just had their feet washed by their very Creator, the Most High God–the disciples had another spat about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom! Jesus gently rebuked them, saying “…let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luk 22.26)

Jesus declared, on the occasion of another leadership dispute by His disciples, “…The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve…” (Mat 20.28)

If I am His, I am clothed in His righteousness. If I am to be like Him, I must live my life wrapped in a towel.

(All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.)

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