“He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.” John 13:4
For thirty-three years Jesus had practiced laying aside everything in order to make “himself nothing” and fulfill his calling as Savior. On his final night with his favorite people it was fitting that he would continue the process. The apostle Paul described Christ this way: “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus never came to grasp, or get, or be greedy. He was all about laying aside, going down, humbling himself to express his great love for all of us who usually camp out in the grasping, getting, and greedy territory.
On the very night he would be betrayed, John conveyed the picture of Jesus “taking a towel.” We don’t usually gravitate to that lowly position. We tend toward “taking” a microphone to address a crowd. We relish “taking” retirement so we can go off, mind our own business, and do our own thing. We normalize “taking” a break for some well-deserved, long-overdue “me” time. We are far more interested in “taking” a raise to show those down line who’s the boss around here!
In an often-overlooked passage Paul encouraged us “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people…so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:1-2,8). Seriously? Ready for good work, speaking evil of no one, showing perfect courtesy toward all people! Devote myself to someone other than me?
To simplify the lesson Paul might have said, “Be a towel taker!” Be the one in the room who bends down and notices others, who sacrifices without drawing attention to yourself, who does the necessary tasks others avoid. Be ready to do good work the way a runner is poised on tippy toes on the starting block anticipating the necessary action ahead. Take a towel and wrap your arms around a grieving friend. Take a towel and bandage somebody’s deep wound. Take a towel and soften the blows of life. Take a towel and blot out someone’s loneliness or sadness or shortcomings.
Take a towel and do something larger and grander than yourself.
Elizabeth Karram Mitchell