It sat folded at the end of the table. There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing of note. It was a plain piece of cloth made of a solid weave. This simple towel had a very base function - the wiping of feet dirty feet. Among the common man better cloths were utilized for the washing and drying of hands. The houses of the wealthy were adorned with silks and linens. This fabric had no place among the wealthy. This textile would wipe the road filth and dust from legs, ankles, and toes. It was an unimportant weave in the background of an evening meal.
The bowl was plain, unadorned, and unremarkable. Serving platters and dining boards would all be placed on the table in preparation of the meal. This bowl would sit in the corner, unheeded until necessary. Like the towel, this bowl had a lowly function. Like the towel, this receptacle was of little importance to the planned events of the approaching evening.
As the meal hour approached they began to arrive. First one, then two and three, then a half dozen, ten, and finally the room was filled. The smells of the evening's feast made hungry mouths salivate in anticipation. The room was permeated with the din of conversations and discussions. Some were jovial, some were heated, all were impassioned. One man sat quietly taking it all in.
This man had been observing the rest for some time, listening to the myriad conversations. Occasionally a smile would cross his face and slowly melt. It was evident he was absorbing from the rest, drinking in their words. If one were to study this man for long, one would note a wave of sorrow pass over his face as if some distant memory or premonition would occasionally remove him from the moment. As the room's volume soared, trays laden with food began to be brought out and the occupants eagerly engaged the fare and the conversations with renewed vigor. There were even debates among some as to which of them were more important and who among them were worthy of highest honor.
Quietly the man stood and walked over by the empty bowl. Turning his back to the meal he removed his outer cloak and garments and stripped naked to the waist. All discussions died to a murmur as he took the folded towel from the corner of the the table and wrapped his waistline with it. He then proceeded to fill the bowl with water from a nearby pitcher. Kneeling by those at the head of the table, he quietly began removing their dust laden sandals. The room was now silent except for the sound of sprinkling water as he wordlessly washed road grime and dirt from their feet. Using the towel, he dabbed water and remaining mud from their legs and feet. First one, then another, he moved on to the next and then on the next as the observers gaped in nervous astonishment.
In each of their minds was the singular thought that this was the task of servants and slaves! He who was performing this act, was no slave. Each of them firmly believed he was chosen to rule. As he gently bathed and caressed each foot, cleansing away past traffic and erasing evidence of paths traveled, each of them could only marvel that they should be the ones performing this act for Him, not this reversal of roles as it was playing out.
Finally the last to be washed raised his hands in refusal. Pride would not see the teacher stoop below the disciple. "Unless I do this, you will have no part of me" was the reply. Pride had no place here. He went further to explain that each of them should be ready and ever willing to follow his example even to engage in, what is perceived to be the lowest act, to serve each other. This was his way, humble, compassionate, and filled with love for one another.
Often we remember the "Last Supper" for the communion elements, as we should. We remember it, too, for relevance of the Passover Feast to the Crucifixion and rightly so. We'll even remember it for the calling out of a traitor and his 30 pieces of silver. Far too seldom do we remember it for the lesson taught by a bowl and a towel.