Throughout most of high school and some of college, I really wrestled with the idea of humility. I knew that, as a follower of Christ, I was supposed to be humble, and I really wanted to be, but, try as I might, I just couldn't seem to grasp it. I've always been disciplined and good at completing tasks and I thought humility was just another one of those things I could set a goal for, work hard at, and eventually attain. The thing is, the more I tried to be humble and the more successful I was at completing those tasks, the less humble I felt. I simply became more proud of my ability to do ignoble things. In an effort to be more like Christ in His humility, I blindly stumbled around, grasping unsuccessfully at different things that I thought would help.
As I read through the book of John this year and came across the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet, those fruitless, frustrating times streamed back into my mind. Here is Jesus, the King and Savior, executing perfect humility. Not only that, but his humility is a stark contrast to His disciples' (and my) pride. The disciples had just been arguing about who the greatest of them was. To quell their argument, God Himself does the dirtiest and lowliest work imaginable, gently washing the feet of His friends before dinner. It was a chore reserved for servants, not the master of the house and certainly not the Master of the universe. And yet, this is where we find Jesus, on the ground with a dirty, damp, stained towel around his waist.
I love this story, not just because it shows how Jesus humbly serves and loves His friends, but because it explains WHY He did it. Very rarely throughout the Scriptures do we get to see why Jesus does something. Occasionally, we see that Jesus was filled with compassion or we're given an explanation of His reasoning directly from Him, but those verses are few and far between. But, in this story, John articulates what's going on inside Jesus' head. We are gifted with a brief glimpse into what is driving Jesus' actions here.
John 13:3 says: "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God..." Jesus KNEW that the Father had put all things under His power. In this moment, Jesus actualizes and centers on Who He is. He is the Son of God, with all things under His power. His intimate moment with His Father spurs Him to wash the disciples' feet. It's almost as if Jesus' acknowledgement and actualization of Who He is gives him the freedom and courage to go wash feet. Nothing could shake Jesus from His Father at that moment, not even some dirty feet or some disapproving looks from the disciples. His certainty in His position provided Him with confident humility, the courage to complete a lowly, potentially humiliating, task for the love and benefit of others. Because He had the power and love of the Father backing Him, Jesus humbly took the role of the servant.
Had I read and understood this in high school, I think I would have come face to face with a terrifying fact: my inability to "achieve" humility was rooted in my insecurity. My attempts to be more humble were founded in the belief that I could do it myself, that my attempts would give me the confidence to be humble. If I simply tried harder and did more, if I was better, than I could be more humble. Any successes were a reflection of me. All of my accomplishments pointed back to my position in my own comparison game, not my position with God. All of my efforts were rooted in me…Jesus' humility, on the other hand, was rooted in His Father, in knowing Who He was.
Jesus knew who He was, so He washed feet. If I truly know who I am in Christ, then confident humility is the natural outcome. If I fully understand and actualize God's unshakeable love for me and for the people around me, I will naturally want to love and serve them in any way possible, and no task will be too lowly or disgusting for me. Because nothing can shake my position with God, not even some poor, self-centered, high school attempts at humility.