Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage. [Matthew 20:28 (MSG)]
While the stories are similar, they are not the same. Luke tells of the unnamed woman anointing Jesus’ feet and John tells of Mary of Bethany who also anointed the feet of Jesus. The unnamed woman was a notorious sinner and an uninvited and unwelcome guest in the Pharisee’s home. Mary was a well-respected and devout friend of Jesus and welcome in her sister’s house. Pharisees were present at one and the disciples of Christ at the other. Where the Pharisees saw a sinful woman’s bad character, Jesus only saw a repentant sinner. Where the disciples saw an extravagant waste of money, Jesus only saw a woman who offered a gift of love. One cried in repentance and sorrow because of her sins and the other may have offered her service as an act of love in thanksgiving for the resurrection of her brother Lazarus.
Both women, however, humbled themselves at Jesus’ feet. The unnamed woman took on a job that belonged to the Pharisee’s servants and Mary, one of the women of the house, took on her maidservant’s task. While most people chased after Jesus because they wanted something from him, neither of these women asked anything. Instead, they offered all they had. One woman’s old life died as she washed His feet and the other woman’s gift was in preparation of another death, that of Jesus. Both acts declared the women’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah. We may come to Jesus as a repentant sinner or we may come to him with praise and thanksgiving but, like both of these women, we must always come with a humble heart and ready to serve.
The most radical act of humility and service occurred that night in the upper room when Jesus washed the feet of His disciple. Shortly after the disciples had argued over who among them was the greatest, Jesus (the greatest of them all) knelt at their feet. Knowing full well that one would betray him, one would deny him, and all would desert him, He humbly washed their filthy feet.
Today is Maundy Thursday and several Christian denominations will have communion services in remembrance of that last supper. Some churches will also observe a religious rite called Washing of the Feet as a reminder both that loving Christ means service and that there is dignity in serving others. As Christians, we are to follow His example, serving one another in humility and love. Like the unnamed woman, Mary of Bethany, and even Jesus, we must have the heart of a servant.
Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life. [John 13:12-17 (MSG)]
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