Tag Archives: towel

The Towel and Bowl of Servanthood

This is the ninth and final photovotional in this series based on the photo prints
of mine which we have hanging on our walls in our home in Brandon, Florida. This photo hangs in our bathroom, an appropriate place for an image about washing our bodies.


Some photos I take I simply come across the scene and snap the picture, while others I take some time and effort to set up, such as this one of the towel and bowl. I wanted to communicate the theme of servanthood, based on Jesus’ example of taking a towel and bowl and washing His disciples’ feet on the night He was arrested, the same night, in an upper room, where He shared the Last Supper with them.

Feet often needed washing in those days because the roads were dusty and people wore sandals. People may have left home with clean feet, but when they arrived at their destination their feet would be dirty. It was customary for a servant to do the task of washing the guests’ feet. Among the disciples in that upper room no one offered to do the task, or perhaps Jesus didn’t give them the chance. Whatever the circumstances Jesus is the one who got up, took a bowl of water and a towel and performed the servant’s task. Jesus used His washing of the disciples’ feet as a teachable moment, telling them, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)

Jesus didn’t intend a literal application, that we should take people’s shoes and socks off and wash their feet (though this can be done, very meaningfully in a ceremonial and sacramental way and is actually a sacrament in some church traditions). The larger application is that Jesus is giving part of the job description of a follower of Jesus and that’s playing the servant’s role whenever possible.

There’s a multitude of ways to apply this teaching of Jesus. Friends are to serve the needs of each other, as are husbands and wives. I’ve often paraphrased the words of the late President Kennedy in wedding ceremonies, telling the couple, “Don’t ask what your mate can do for you, but what you can do for your mate.” Co-workers should move beyond “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” to a genuine desire to help out a fellow worker even if there’s no guarantee the good deed will be returned. In all of our relationships we’re to be ready and willing to do what Jesus did and that’s to serve those God’s providentially placed around us within our sphere of influence.

Let me qualify all of this by reminding us that this does not mean we let people walk all over us or that we do everything they want us to do. Parents serve their children by saying “No!” on many an occasion, giving their children what they need, not always what they want. Sometimes serving others means saying and doing that which the other person might not approve. We seek to serve by doing for others what they need, not necessarily what they want.

Our success at following Jesus’ example of serving is based on having the right motivation. Our motive should not be the need to be a people pleaser or to “scratch someone else’ back and they’ll scratch yours”. Serving others is to be the ramification of having accepted Christ’s ultimate act of serving by going to the cross and dying for our sins. The further ramification is that we are now committed to to serving Him by way of serving His people with our newly redeemed lives out of deep gratitude and love for what He’s done, is doing, and will forever do for us. The picture of the towel and bowl reminds me of this.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then 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: 3-5)