Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet
1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
I’ve been thinking about this passage a lot today and I felt I should write down my thoughts, if only for future reflection. In September of 2007, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Egypt with work. I was there for twelve days, and in the course of those two weeks, I did a lot of walking. Each morning, I had the choice between wearing sneakers or my Teva sandals, purchased specially for the trip. Most days, I chose to wear sandals, as sneakers and sand never seemed to go together well in my mind. My journal entry from the first day of the trip reads as follows:
“I wore sandals today and when we were done, my feet were white with sand and dirt. I could not help but think about the stories in the Bible which feature sandals and sand: John the Baptist saying he is not fit to untie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16); Mary washing Jesus’ feet since His host did not (John 12:3); Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles (John 13:1-17); the Apostles shaking the sand and dust from their feet when they leave the town which ignores the Gospel (Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5, Acts 13:51). All of the stories make much more sense and have taken on greater significance.”
At the end of each day of exploration, the first thing I had to do, no matter how exhausted I was, was wash the sand from my tired feet. As I washed my feet, I thought of John’s story of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet. I suppose I had always thought of this story as more of an ancient custom – a foreign ritual confined to the pages of the Bible, but after scrubbing the dirt from my own feet, I became more aware of what exactly this story meant. All at once, Peter’s declaration of, “No! You can’t do that!” hit home.
Imagine for a moment that you are a disciple in the Upper Room. Suddenly, the Son of God, your teacher and Lord, is kneeling at your feet, rough and dirty from traversing the rugged countryside. You have watched Him heal the sick, forgive sinners, drive demons out of people and even raise the dead, but here He is – ready to lovingly wash your feet clean. God should not do such a demeaning thing, should He? Yet it is exactly what He does. It is extreme humility in action.
This beautiful passage depicts physically what Christ does to each of us spiritually when we encounter Him. For aren’t we all disciples in that room, desperately in need of someone to clean us up? He comes to us, compelled by love and mercy, pinpoints the dirt and proceeds to polish us until we shine. It may take some scrubbing, but the end result will glisten like gold in the sun.
Yet John’s passage is not only an example of Jesus’ love for us, but also a fervent call to action. When Jesus is finished with this apparent role-reversal, He instructs the disciples to do the same to those they encounter, acting as servants in humility and love. It is important here to distinguish between servitude and servanthood. Servitude implies that one is bound to do something regardless of his or her will, while servanthood is the act of willingly choosing to be a servant. In this act, Christ chooses to wash His disciples’ feet out of love and a desire to teach them how to serve others.
We, like the disciples, are to choose to take Jesus’ lead and to act as God’s servants in the world. We are to leave the four walls of the Upper Room and extend the love of this act to those in need. No, there may not be a need to physically wash feet anymore, but by humbly and generously offering of ourselves, we show that we care and have a desire to help however we can.
Instead of washing feet, we may serve by volunteering time at a soup kitchen or a non-profit organization. We may donate time and money to charities or groups whose causes touch us. Our “foot-washing” may be as simple as giving a stranger directions, holding the door for someone, or offering to help when we see a person in need. Even if your offer is declined, the very act of placing someone else’s needs above your own signals that you care about the other person and his or her situation. Sometimes people just need to know that someone is there.
In these little acts of kindness, we honor Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. As Christ reiterates in Matthew’s Gospel, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40). There is no limit on how or whom we can help. We need only to use our creativity and act out of love and humility as Jesus did one evening in the Upper Room.
© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.