"Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master ..." (John 13:16)

"Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." (John 13:16) 

Why is Jesus saying this after washing his disciples' feet?

Jesus was trying to teach his disciples to become humble servants - just as Jesus saw himself as a humble servant of God and a servant of humanity.

Being someone else's servant requires humility.

Most of us living within the physical realm do not want to be anyone's servant. We don't want to be humble. Here we want to be the boss, the political leader, the star, the CEO, or at least the head of the family.

As a society, we promote pride rather than humility. Here we are proud of our country. We are proud of our accomplishments. We want our kids to be proud of themselves. Here we seek pride, but not humility. And this is why we are here in the physical realm, and not with the Supreme Being in the spiritual realm.

Our pride comes from a false sense of ownership. We think that we own the stuff of the physical world. We think we own our lands, our resources, the animals, our kids, and our history. And this is why we fight each other over territory, money, people, and resources. We think we own this stuff.

And we think the skills and intelligence we used to produce our accomplishments came from us.

But none of this actually comes from us - we actually own nothing. We can know that we do not own anything here because we each have to leave these things at the time of death.

Doesn't ownership require control?

Yes. And we do not control the things we think we own, because we ultimately lose them, either during our lifetimes or at the time of death.

The Supreme Being is the only owner and the source of everything. Since He is the only person who controls everything, only He can own it.

Therefore, all of our fighting over territory, money and resources is all in vain. We are pointlessly struggling over God's property. And this also goes for certain "promised" lands.

But it requires humility to realize this. It requires a person to humbly accept that we do not control anything, and therefore, we have no ownership. And we cannot be proud of anything.

And as far as servants, each of us is a servant whether we like it or not. Most of us here are the servants of our physical senses and mind. We serve whatever will please our senses and mind. We want sensual pleasures in the form of eating, sex, music, visual beauty and so on. And whatever our mind suggests us to do, we do it.

If our mind tells us that we will be happy if we become famous, we slave away for years to become famous. If our mind tells us we'll be happy if we become a big politician or CEO, we slave for years to achieve that. If our mind tells us that we'll be happy when we get a family and a house with a white picket fence, we slave away for years to accomplish those things.

Then once we get those things, instead of becoming happy, we become their servants. When we get our family and house with the white picket fence we have to serve the family and slave away at maintaining the house. When we get famous we have to perform services to keep our fans happy. When we get our big political job we have to serve our constituents. When we get our CEO job we have to serve the stockholders. When we get the sensual things that we thought would make us happy, we become addicted to those sensual pleasures. They all become our masters, and we become their servants.

Are we all servants?

We are not self-sufficient. The Supreme Being created each of us to be His loving servant, caregiver and friend. We were created to care for Him. We were created to need Him.

But He also gave us the choice to serve Him and care for Him or not. But if we choose not to be God's servant and caregiver, this doesn't wipe out our nature as servants and caregivers. We might be in the illusion that we are no one's servant or caregiver, but we can never escape our nature. Therefore, our nature requires us to serve something or someone else.

Jesus is describing the master/servant relationship allegorically here. He is professing the importance of humility to becoming the loving servant of God. In other to become God's loving servant, we must accept first that we are not in control, and that we own nothing. Then we must accept His superiority and His control.

At the same time, the kind of servitude Jesus is discussing here is not a master/slave relationship. No one forced Jesus to wash the feet of his disciples. Jesus was illustrating the meaning of loving service.

And herein lies the secret of our situation. We are in control of only one thing: Whether we choose to love and serve God or not. If we choose not to love and serve God, we will love and serve our senses and mind, and by virtue of that, serve those that result from serving these "masters."

Having the choice to serve God means that service to God is not slavery. Nor is it an indentured service. Slavery means we have no choice. And indentured service means getting something in return.

An indentured servant is someone who becomes obligated to their master, while the master gives the servant something in return. It is a contract. A sort of business relationship - although one that has been abused by many in the past. This type of service is also not the loving service Jesus was teaching about.

What is loving service based on?

Jesus' disciples - and each of us - have the choice of becoming loving servants of God. Or not. Such a relationship is based not on slavery or getting something in return, but on love.

A person who falls in love with someone can also become that person's servant. Such service is loving service. Loving service is not based on the expectation of any return. Nor is it by contract or for any other reward. Loving service is performed simply to please the one who is being loved.

This is the type of service Jesus is referring to, and the type of service that Jesus performed on behalf of the Supreme Being, whom he loved.

This type of loving service requires humility, and this is why Jesus talks about "no servant" being "greater than his master." Yet the humility of God's loving servant is not related to fear. This is not like the humility of a slave who could be mistreated or abused if they didn't do their service.

The type of humility that Jesus is referring to is loving God so much that there is no regard for self when it comes to pleasing Him. It is the humility of needing the Supreme Being. Depending upon the Supreme Being. Relying upon the Supreme Being. This is what takes place in a loving relationship.

Jesus also talks about "a messenger" not being "greater than the one who sent him." This brings another dimension to what Jesus is trying to communicate. Not only does he see himself as a messenger of God. He also wants his disciples to see themselves as messengers of God. 

How do we know that Jesus is God's messenger?

We can see this by other statements Jesus made about himself:
"When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the One who sent me." (John 12:44)
"I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the One who sent me." (John 7:33)
"I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the One who sent me." (John 13:20)
Jesus' statements are obviously referring to Jesus being sent by the Supreme Being to teach. This is the meaning of a messenger: Someone who is sent by another to deliver a message.

We can see from these that not only does Jesus see himself as a humble messenger of God, but in the last statement (John 13:20) he indicates that those students Jesus sends out to teach others ("anyone I send") will also be messengers of God because they are passing along the same teachings Jesus is passing on - which were also the same teachings of all the teachers that preceded Jesus, including Abraham, Moses, Eli, Samuel, David, John the Baptist and others.

And what are these teachings? What is that message God is sending us through His messengers? What is the message God sent through Jesus - with not only his teachings but by his actions and ultimate sacrifice?
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)