No Servant is Greater

The room would do, Cephas thought. Four walls and a roof. What more did you need?

It was mostly just a functional space–a place where people gather for a meal, and then return to their homes afterward. In the middle of the room was a long, low table which could be easily moved if more room was needed. There were few decorations of any sort. Cephas and his friends reclined around the table on cushions, waiting for Jesus to speak as the meal was served.

He always spoke.

The smell of meat, fish, and bread filled the air, and Cephas began to feel his stomach growl. He wondered if the others could hear it. There were small dishes of dates here and there on the table, and several small platters of soft cheese. Cephas felt like grabbing handfuls of everything and foregoing the wooden plate in front of him—it wouldn’t have been the first time.

The Lord sat at the table’s center, and after a brief glance at them, He stood without a word and walked to a large, beaten metal bowl that sat by the door next to a small wooden milking stool. On the seat was a folded linen towel. Next to it was a clay jug full of water. Cephas wondered what He was doing. But then again, He had been known to go off on his own at times. Maybe He was leaving.

He didn’t leave.

Jesus removed his outer garments, setting them gently on the floor next to the stool. He picked up the towel and wrapped it around his waist. Cephas noticed once again the effect that decades of working with tools and his hands had on His body. He was slender, but strong, and his hands were large. They were callused from his work, but surprisingly gentle as he took the clay jug and poured water into the bowl. He picked up a wooden ladle from the ground next to the bowl, and without another word, he walked over to the man closest to the door, knelt down, and began to wash his feet.

This was the task of a servant, Cephas thought–a lowly servant at that–and he couldn’t believe the Lord was doing what He was doing.

It wasn’t right. He felt his temper begin to flare, and he began to stand.

And then the Lord knelt at his feet, setting the bowl and ladle down next to him.

“Lord,” Cephas asked him, “are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus looked up at Cephas, and his eyes were brown, and kind, and full of love. “You don’t realize now what I’m doing,” he replied. “But later you will understand.”

Cephas began to feel angry again. Why was He doing this? And what won’t he understand now? He understood that Jesus should not be performing the act of the lowliest of servants—he understood that much.

“No!” he said, and it was almost a shout. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus looked at him for a long moment and then answered in a soft voice, “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with me.”

This made no sense. “Then, Lord,” Cephas said, “not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well.”

Jesus answered, looking into his eyes all the while “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

This last statement made even less sense. Who was the Lord talking about?

Before he could ask, Cephas felt the hands of the carpenter on his feet, removing his sandals. Jesus put them aside, then set the bowl beneath Cephas’s feet. He scooped water up with the wooden ladle and slowly poured it over his ankles, then his feet and toes. He gently rubbed the dirty feet, and then poured more water over them to rinse. His hands were strong, but gentle, and Cephas could see the dirt and dust slipping away, falling back into the water. Then he slowly dried his feet with the rough towel, and Cephas felt nearly overwhelmed with emotion. This act, this simple act of a servant humbled him—nearly crushed him—and suddenly his appetite was gone.

Jesus moved on to the next man. When he was finished washing all their feet, he once again put on his rough clothes and returned to his place at the center of the table.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

He stopped for a moment and looked at them all. Then He looked directly at Cephas.

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

His voice was soft, but Cephas felt as if he could have heard it from outside the Sheep Gate. He rose a little from his reclined position and looked at his feet. He thought about what Jesus had done, and bade him to do.

He wondered if he could do it.

Jesus continued. “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of scripture: ‘he who shared my bread has turned against me.’”

What was Jesus talking about? They’d all shared his bread, hadn’t they? Who among them could turn against him?

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” He looked briefly at all of them. “Truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts he who sent me.”

Jesus looked troubled after he said this last, and sat quietly for a moment before continuing. “One of you is going to betray me.”

Cephas looked at the other disciples, and they at him. Who could he mean? John reclined against the Lord, and Cephas motioned to him and said quietly into his ear, “ask him who he’s talking about?”

John leaned back against Jesus again and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

“It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish,” he said, and dipped the corner of a small piece of warm bread into a small bowl of dark and steaming broth. Then he handed it to Judas, son of Simon.

Cephas saw Judas take the break and hold the gaze of Jesus for a moment. His head slightly rocked back and he looked into the eyes of the Lord. He did not speak.

“What you are about to do, do it quickly.” He let go of the hand of Judas, and it fell downward like a piece of fish. Judas looked down at it. Everyone else looked at him, trying to understand why Jesus said what he did to his disciple, and friend.

Judas controlled the coin of the group, and some of the disciples whispered that he could be talking about purchasing the items needed for the upcoming Passover festival, or maybe simply giving some or all of the money to the poor, who seemed to gather everywhere they went. Whatever the reason, Judas took the bread from Jesus, rose from the table, and quietly went into the night.

Cephas noticed everyone fell silent and stopped eating. What had just happened? Jesus sat quietly for a moment and then spoke quietly.

“Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”

Not for the first time, Cephas wished the Lord would just speak plainly.

“My children,” Jesus continued, “I will only be with you a little while longer. You will look for me, just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, love one another. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples, if you simply love one another.”

Jesus paused, and looked about to weep. “Lord, where are you going?” Cephas asked.

“Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Cephas leaned forward intently and asked, “Why can’t I follow you now? I would die for you.”

“Will you really die for me? Listen to me. Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Never, thought Cephas. I would never deny him. He looked at the walls, the table, the other disciples, anywhere but at Jesus. He was at a loss. The Lord thought him a traitor. A betrayer. Had he not also said the same of Judas just moments before?

Jesus smiled at him and started speaking again. He was talking to all of them, but Cephas felt the words sink into his heart and it was if the Lord whispered in his ear.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said. “You believe in God; believe also in me. My father’s house has room for all. If that were not so, would I have told you I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go there to prepare a place for you, be assured I will come back and take you to be there with me, near to where I am? You know the way to the place I’m going.”

They all likely thought the same words, but it was Thomas who spoke. “Lord, we have no idea where you’re going. How are we supposed to know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way. I am the truth and the life. Only through me can you come to the father. If you really know me, you will know my father as well. From here on, you do know him, and have seen him.”

Philip said “Lord, just show us the father and that will be enough.”

Jesus answered, chastising him gently. “Don’t you know me, Philip? I have been with you for many months, and many hardships. Anyone who has seen me has seen the father. So how can you ask me to show you the father? Don’t you believe that I am the father, and that the father is in me? My words are not spoken in my own authority. No, it is the father—living in me—who’s doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am the father, and the father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work itself. Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing all along, and they will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the father will be glorified in the Son. You may ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

The room was silent, and everyone looked down, thinking. Cephas thought about doing the kind of works he’d seen the Lord do on many occasions, and it did not seem possible.

Could he heal? Could he give life? And how about teach? He was a fisherman.

Anything, Lord?