In John 13:1-17, we see Jesus do something extraordinary…or should I say out of the ordinary. He washes His disciples dirty and grimy feet. I found myself a bit tongue tied at the first verse in this passage which reads…
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” John 13:1
With these words, we are ushered into the final hours of Christ’s life before His death and resurrection.
It could simply mean He showed them love “to the very end,” meaning “until the final hours He would spend with them.” But I think the words suggest much more than that. Jesus was giving His disciples a dramatic object lesson to show them the lengths He would go to in order to love them (and us too)! That’s a fascinating thought, though, because the thing he was about to do was an incredibly common and mundane thing. He was going to wash their feet. It would be like saying, “On their 50th wedding anniversary, Bob showed his wife the full extent of his love: he mopped the kitchen floor.”
Now, I’ll be honest with you: I’m always game for a good ole’ pampering pedicure. My girlfriends can call me just about anytime and I will find a way to join them at the spa. However, if they were to tell me we were going to the nail salon to soak, scrape, wash and file complete stranger’s feet for a day, I would be as quick as a whistle to dismiss myself from this outing. Let’s make this real clear: digging around someone’s in-grown toenails for a day doesn’t quite suit me. Apparently, the disciples felt the same way.
Footwashing was a menial job that typically fell to the lowliest person in the room. Although everyone agreed that it had to be done, nobody wanted to do it. On the other hand, nobody wanted to sit down on the floor for dinner with stinky, dirty feet in plain sight while they enjoyed a plentiful potluck dinner. So, it was a job that had to be done. Luke’s account about this last supper seems to suggest that the footwashing issue led to an argument over “who was the greatest among them.”
First of all, he was the rabbi. There is no evidence anywhere in ancient literature of a rabbi stopping to wash his disciple’s feet. I’ve read there are no recorded instances, absolutely none, from the ancient East in which a superior washes the feet of an inferior. Not in Jewish, Greek or Roman sources. But even more so, from a human perspective, Jesus was the neediest person in the room. He was hours away from a cruel and lonely death. If anyone needed to be served that evening–to be loved and cared for–it was Jesus. But look what happens in v. 4-5, “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
In fact, it was such an awkward and embarrassing moment that Peter protested: “No, you shall never wash my feet.”(v8) We can understand his discomfort. As humbling as it is to serve, it can be downright humiliating to be served. We don’t like to admit we need help. But Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.“
We now understand that Jesus was foretelling His death on the cross and salvation would be accomplished there. Peter, like the rest of us, would need to have his sins washed away by the shed blood of Christ. Jesus was also trying to tell Peter, and the rest of us, something important:
Does this sound shocking to you? It should. If you think you deserve salvation, if you think you deserve to have God come down and humble Himself on your behalf, then you are seriously mistaken. In sharp contrast, although we don’t deserve it, Jesus freely offers..and you must allow Him to wash your feet or you will have no part with Him. Listen up, I want you to understand that God thinks you are worth having some pretty feet. He thinks you deserve a nice pedicure..and He’ll throw in the manicure for free. He thinks you are worth the pain and the effort to get clean.
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Solomon 4:7