There is only One can be considered great Who has ever walked this earth; but there are many who have striven, even coveted, greatness. Among those were the apostles. Early on with their walk with Jesus this strife and contention resulted in Jesus’ conducting an object lesson.

This is Week 1 of our final topic within our Servanthood series entitled, “Servanthood to Each Other”.  To view our past Servanthood series, click on any of the following links.

Servanthood to the Lord

Servant Hood to Your Spouse

In Luke 9: 46 – 48 Jesus had stated those who wished to be great should be like little children. Children were not considered to be of much value at that time in history. They were held in very low esteem, almost expendable. Yet these children are the examples Jesus uses when He explains that “ the least among them would be the greatest: “

Who Is the Greatest?

46 Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. 47 And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.”

– Luke 9: 46 – 48

Jesus knew that the lives of the disciples would involve suffering and rejection. Yet they were more interested in honor and authority. Their priorities were not Jesus’ priorities for them and could result in deep sadness for their future – look at Judas. It was necessary that they took this lesson to heart and hear the humility of servanthood, the servanthood that Jesus used as the supreme basis for His whole life – “not My will but Thy will be done.”

What could have precipitated this jealousy and strife, this jockeying for position? Possibly it was the fact that only Peter, James and John were allowed to witness the Transfiguration (Luke 9: 28). Or that only Peter, James and John were allowed to accompany Jesus as witnesses to the miracle of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8: 51). Did that mean that they would be the future leaders after Jesus died and that the others would have to take orders from them. Their pride would not allow that! The apostles were looking at the power of the earthly kingdom instead of  the place of servanthood and humility of the heavenly one.

Sadly the disciples did not learn their humility/servanthood lesson then. It would re-surface at a most startling time, at a  time when that should have been the furthest thought from their minds. So important was this lesson to their welfare and the growth of the entire church that it forced Jesus to take a most drastic step. It was a step of such impact that it would be “imprinted on their minds and engraved on their hearts”  (Hebrews 8: 10) forever after. It wouldn’t be a lesson He spoke but a play He enacted. I will entitle this play “prickly people and stinky feet” that you, too, not forget it.


The time is The Last Supper, one of the last days in Jesus’ life. He knew the fears and doubts the disciples would face upon His crucifixion, wondering if He really was the Son of God, The Messiah. This was the final lesson He could teach them. Would it be on faith, on His unconditional love for them or something quite unexpected? It was what He knew they most needed to hear for the days and decades ahead. It is the lesson with which we have the hardest problem: servanthood to each other, complete humility.

In the series on servanthood to the Lord we discussed the unique but rather dignified subjects of the awl, the priesthood and the cross. In discussing servanthood to each other our topics will be more “down-to earth” simply because we will be talking about people relating to people. Therefore, it is only fitting that we dwell on “ prickly people and stinky feet.” After all, Jesus did.

Let’s first deal with some of the “prickly people” present at The Last Supper where the scene takes place. Why do I give these men that title? Have you ever seen a bunch of children vying for the one prize that’s going to be thrown in the middle of a circle? They push, shove, wham elbows – acting like little porcupines to hurt everyone else to get the prize. That’s what these apostles were doing as they argued for supremacy at The Last Supper:

The Disciples Argue About Greatness

24 Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.

– Luke 22:24 New King James Version (NKJV)

Here is Jesus discussing His impending death and the disciples are once again only concerned with who is the greatest among them! They hadn’t learned anything from the first lesson ( Luke 9: 46-48) on humility and it is so vital that it becomes the last lesson Jesus teaches. Had they learned nothing from the  humility of The Lord Who has taught them, walked with them, loved them, set an example for them for over three years? This is His last chance.

Therefore, Jesus has to not just tell them but show them. The solution: He is going to wash their stinky feet. This is His last chance to show them how to live as He had lived – as a servant. He knew everything that would happen in the hours to come. The time was short.

And supper being ended,* the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.

– John 13:2-5 New International Version (NIV)

*Supper being ended – This translation expresses too much. The original means while they were at supper; and that this is the meaning is clear from the fact that we find them still eating after this. The Arabic and Persic translations give it this meaning. The Latin Vulgate renders it like the English. ( Barnes Commentary) ( Editor, note verses 26, 30).

Jesus knew the exalted dignity of His true place: He had come from God and would return there. All things were in His hands. Yet He was about to stoop to the absolute lowliest position of the most common of all servants. The degree of difference between these two extremes cannot be adequately put into mere words.

Questions? Comments?

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I would like to thank my fellow consultants for all their assistance in getting this blog published: Michelle Arrington, Hannah Hall, Ariel Mcgarry, Carol White, Tracy Yoder, and J.P.Wilhelm. Their encouragement and patience have been invaluable to me.

Featured Image:

Cedric Gilette, Onepointfourphotography. “Luke Whitmore (right) helps cross country competitor, Walker Thomas (left), cross the finish line at the FHSAA State Championships.