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John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Developing a habit of overcoming social structures to serve is unnatural for us. We expect our food promptly at our restaurants, we expect our department stores to be maintained and feel a certain way, and we are shocked when our garbage does not magically disappear on trash day. All these ingrained expectations have left certain roles in our culture invisible and assumed servants to the status quo. Where would we be without food service workers, janitorial staff, and sanitation workers? Moreover, what would be the impact if we saw these various invisible roles as our responsibility when we entered a place to be served?

This is the sort of mindset Jesus’ disciples wrestled with when they gathered for an evening meal before the festivities for the Passover would begin. The custom in their day was to enter the room where they would be eating and have a servant wash their hands and feet before sitting down to eat. This servant would not partake in the meal, but was instrumental in the success of a clean and satisfying experience. It is no surprise then that when Jesus, bearing the titles of “teacher” and “rabbi”, arose and took the role of this invisible servant, the disciples were stunned and were even perturbed.

Having worked food service all through my theological education (9 years), I found myself filling the role of the invisible servant many times. As a waiter and barista, many customers had a tangible expectation that I was simply a means to their desired end. I felt very aware that I was nothing more than an apparatus to dispense their expected service. This is very much how the role of a servant would be seen in first century Palestine. Durning my food service years, I also found it strange when a movie star or politician would work a “common” job, they would have all sorts of publicity covering their “service” to others. It made their acts of service geared towards something else rather than service itself. I think some could take Jesus’ actions in this passage as someone from a high status lowering himself for the sort of social attraction it would cause. However, knowing the heart of Christ displayed at the beginning of this passage (v1), not to mention the heart displayed throughout the gospel of John, I would argue for a different motive entirely. Jesus seems to be showing how invisible we keep the assumed servants in our societal systems. He points out how we both expect and ignore those who clean, make our clothing, pick our fruits and veggies, and serve us our coffee. Jesus illuminates how devalued we have made the role of a servant and tells us boldly, “unless I wash