Heart of a Servant
Our Editor Jimmy shares a story about the heart of a servant.
This article starts out with a story. Once upon a time, there was a wise king who ruled the greatest kingdom on Earth. As time passed, the king knew that his own death was imminent. Before his passing, he hosted a grand banquet for his followers who were in charge of carrying out his vision for the kingdom after his death. As the banquet drew to a close, the king drew a basin of water, knelt down, and humbly began to wash the feet of his followers. At the sight of this, one of the guests jumped up and tried to stop the king from doing the work of a servant. However, the king responded that if the guest did not allow him to wash his feet, he would be denying his king. Upon hearing these words, the man could do nothing but accept the gracious act of servanthood offered to him by his king.
The wise king is Jesus. Jesus is our God and he is the ultimate servant.
A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I volunteered at a homeless shelter and recovery center situated in the heart of the rough downtown SOMA district. The center was surrounded by rowdy homeless and street people and the smell of urine and open sewage hung thick in the air. We discovered that the crowd was not shy about using the small alleyway next to the building as an open bathroom. Upon seeing this, I began to have second thoughts about how I was to be spending my Saturday afternoon. When we finally shifted our way into the shelter, we were greeted by the shelter director who gave us a quick tour of the center and sat us down to delegate responsibilities. There were three task stations at the shelter: serving food, running the clothing closet, and foot washing. Naturally, I was given the latter station.
When I first heard about the foot washing station, I thought it was a metaphoric station where we would serve the homeless. Not quite – we were literally washing feet. This was not what I had signed up for! Washing feet is disgusting. I hate washing my own feet let alone the feet of a stranger who hasn’t had a shower in weeks. The only thing that kept me from running out the door screaming was my dignity.
As I sat down at my station, waiting on my first client, I began pondering why this shelter had a foot washing station anyway. Couldn’t we find another way to provide for the basic needs of the homeless? If anything, we should be offering public showers, right?
Bob was a 40 year old homeless man who had been wandered the streets looking for his next heroine hit. When he came to my station, he lifted up his shirt to show me all the bed bug bites that covered his frail body. I asked him to please pull down his shirt and to see one of the volunteer doctors that we had onsite after his foot washing. In my mind, I was praying that I would make it through the day without catching bed bugs or who-knows-what other disease this guy might be carrying. When I finally got him to sit down, I took off his shoes and socks and found his feet in the same condition as the rest of his body. All I could concentrate on at this point was how long I could hold my breath to minimize the stench rising from his feet and to avoid inhaling anything that might be harmful to my body. I was so focused that I didn’t even hear him the first time. He repeated himself:
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Jimmy.”
“Oh Jimmy, nice to meet you Jimmy. Thanks for doing what you are doing – it really gives me hope that maybe one day I can get cleaned and follow God the way I should.”
And then it dawned on me that here was a real person with real hopes and dreams sitting next to me. This whole time, all I could concentrate on was his outward appearance and the stains that covered his body. I completely dehumanized him. I looked up into his compassionate blue eyes and we began a dialogue about his life and his experience with Jesus. He shared with me his struggles and his victories. He shared about his past and what he hoped to accomplish in the future. We spoke for the next 15 minutes while I scrubbed, massaged, and cleaned his feet. The session flew by so fast that I didn’t even realize that I had already put his shoes and socks back on. At the end of our time together, he got up, shook my hand and thanked me again for bringing him hope. As I watched Bob make his way through the crowd and back out onto the streets of San Francisco, I realized how he had softened my heart. He had softened my heart the way Jesus did.
Jesus, the greatest king of all, humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples to give us an example of how a Christian should live. Jesus’ disciples were not those he grew up with, nor were they the great leaders and heroes of his day. Jesus’ disciples were plain, ordinary people – cowards and outcasts among them. Jesus himself was homeless, with nowhere to rest his head. He didn’t care about the stature of a man’s reputation; he cared about the stature of his heart.
While I was washing Bob’s feet, God was calling me to love one of his beloved children. Living out our faith does not require us to only serve those we love, but even more so to serve those who are difficult to love. I didn’t want to love Bob because he smelled, he had bed bugs, and I thought that he had nothing to offer me. Yet, what he gave me in return was the chance to learn one of the most valuable life lessons: he taught me how to love like Jesus.
Before, I used to rush by the homeless with my only concern being how I could avoid being bothered. Now, I try to always make eye contact and offer a smile. I want the ones that the world deems unlovable to know that they are not invisible and that they are greatly loved by a King who gave it all and taught us to do the same for one another. We serve because He first served us.