He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. John 1:27, NIV
To be posthumously remembered as a disciple comes with accolades and praise. But the real, everyday life of a disciple is anything but prestigious. A disciple does more than learn the ways, teachings, and philosophy of his master. If the master says leave your nets, your job, and follow me, you do just that. If the master says leave your family and go on a missionary journey, you do just that. If the master says forget about the rules, go break the law and fetch me some grain on the Sabbath Day to fix the rumble in my tummy, you do just that. If the master says he’s got to leave for good, and you need to bear the risk of being stoned to death or crucified upside down, you do just that.
There is no glamor in being a disciple. A disciple in Jesus’ time was one who followed a master and did his bidding. The master had the right to ask pretty much anything of his disciple. Anything. That is, anything except the tasks of a slave. Menial tasks like untying the laces of a dirty pair of sandals and washing the dusty feet of the master was the job of a slave, not a disciple.
But there is more to the difference between a disciple and a slave. A slave is owned by the master; he has no choice but to do whatever the master asks of him. Whether the master asks the slave to take of his shoes or to die for him, the slave has no choice but to obey. The disciple, on the other hand, chooses to—wants to, of his own free will—obey the master. The slave does what he does without questioning the master; the disciples does what he does with understanding of and belief in the master.
When John the Baptist said he was unworthy of even untying Jesus’ sandals, he was saying Jesus is all that matters. Who I am–disciple, slave, or nobody—is of little significance. What matters is that I point the way to Jesus.
William Barclay says it best: “[John the Baptist] is the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself in order that Jesus Christ may be seen. He was only, as he saw it, a finger-post pointing to Christ. God give us grace to forget ourselves and to remember only Christ.”
When you forget yourself in your love for Christ, everything about you points others to Christ. That’s being a disciple.