Striving to do good, or to look good?

One of Jesus’ most memorable actions was washing his disciples’ feet.

The one who had walked on water and turned water into wine took the posture of a servant, even a slave. Foot washing was a job normally reserved for the lowly. But that’s what he did. 

Consider this context which helps us appreciate his actions. Through Jesus “all things were made” (John 1:3). He spread out the stars and set the mountains and oceans in their place. That same Jesus “poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:5).

They wore sandals. So their feet would have been dirty. Plus, there would have been animal excrement in the streets. In some parts of Jerusalem people would have emptied their portable toilets in the streets as well. This context heightens the meaning of what Jesus does and the lowly posture he takes.

Let’s say that Jesus took four minutes on each pair of feet. That would have equaled 48 minutes—enough time for the disciples to really and truly ponder the example they were to follow.

We live in a world which celebrates success and “upward mobility.” It’s getting ahead. It’s saying and doing certain things to increase your influence and power. In contrast, Henri Nouwen coined the phrase “downward mobility.”* It’s humble servanthood.

Downward mobility is about striving to do what is good, instead of striving to look good.

Do you avoid certain things or people because they feel “beneath” you? If so, spend some time thinking about the divine Saviour who came to earth and washed the gunk from the toes of his disciples, including the one who would betray him.

Downward mobility is about striving to do what is good, instead of striving to look good.


–“Downward Mobility.” Sermon. November 27, 2022. Click here

–*Henri Nouwen, In The Name of Jesus (New York: Crossroad, 1989).

–Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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