He got up from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that 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. John 13:4,5
That he designed this to be exemplary is obvious, from his own declaration after the action had been performed. Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Master and Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. Now it is not necessary that we should resemble him in the very circumstances of the action, but only in the spirit of it. In Popish countries, the ceremony of washing the feet of another, is often performed by persons not very lowly in heart, sometimes by a cardinal, yea, and even by the Pope himself. But the design is to enforce the humility of brotherly love; and to teach us that no service is to be deemed too mean for Christians to perform, when Providence brings it in their way, and the condition of a fellow creature requires it. We may profess to do this in the abstract, but refuse to afford the actual assistance called for, in particular instances, because the office is too mortifying to the pride of our feelings or manners. But this is not to love without dissimulation. This is to love in word and in tongue, but not in deed and in truth. Many have lost all credit here, by their unfeeling, distant, and disdainful conduct towards their inferiors, when they had the finest opportunities to evince their condescension, if they had any.
It would be well, if all who name the name of Christ would attend to the admonition of his apostle; In honor, preferring one another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Job was the greatest man in the East; yet he could say, If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God rises up? and when he visits, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb? And with regard to those sufferers generally overlooked by greatness, yea, and by mediocrity too; and those instances of humbler kindness, which splendid beneficence never thinks of; he could make this affecting appeal: If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof; (for from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother's womb;) if I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering; if his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; if I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate; then let my arm be broken from the bone.
A great man seldom wants more help than he can purchase or procure. Though he has wasted his substance, and reduced himself so as to deserve starvation; his utmost extremity is superfluous subsistence, compared with the suffering of a worthy character, who is neglected because originally indigent. But the industrious poor should be the objects of our attention, whose distress is brought upon them, not by vice, extravagance, and speculation, but by the providence of God; and whose condition sinks them below observation; so that, in the midst of their trouble, none cares for them.
Services small in their nature, are greatly esteemed by those who are commonly neglected. And in those offices you perform for them, you serve the Lord Christ. They cannot recompense you; but He will graciously say, Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me.
Let me, then, hear his blessed invitation, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. Let the same mind be in me, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.