Sunday Devotional: John 13:12-17
12 Then, when he [Jesus] had washed their feet, he took his garments and reclined again. He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You yourselves call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak well, for I am. 14 Therefore, if I, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. 15 For I have given you an example so that just as I have done, you also should do. 16 Truly, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
The setting for Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is the Last Supper. At some point during the evening, he gets up, removes his outer garments, ties a towel around himself, picks up a bowl, and washes the smelly, dirty feet of his disciples. Remember, Jesus and his followers walked everywhere they went. They wore only sandals, and perhaps not all the time. In the warm Middle Eastern climate, the roads would have been dusty, they would have sweat, and their feet would become sore and calloused. Whenever a guest would visit a house, it was expected that one of the household slaves would remove the guest’s sandals and wash the grime from his feet. Not only was this a service to the guest, and probably quite refreshing for him, but it showed honor and respect.
This is why Peter initially objected to Jesus’ actions: “You will never, ever wash my feet!” (John 13:8). This wasn’t Peter’s pride, but his sense of propriety. Jesus was the Master, the Teacher, their Lord; they should be washing his feet, not he theirs! Jesus doesn’t deny his position of leadership, and even superiority, among them. But he says he has given them an example (Greek: hupodeigma) that they are to follow: servant-leadership. Being prepared to do even a nasty job like washing someone’s feet as an act of service, and to show honor and respect.
There are churches today that hold “foot washing” services, where the leadership of the church will literally wash the feet of the congregation, in imitation of Jesus’ actions. However, I think this is missing the point. You see, most people today don’t walk for miles in hard sandals on dusty roads. We have comfortable shoes, odor eaters, and socks, so our feet don’t get nearly as sweaty and dirty as they would have in first century Palestine. And many of us, especially in the West, use cars, buses, trains, and bicycles to get around. Few of us have to walk great distances. So foot washing is not as gross as it would have been two thousand years ago.
What principle was Jesus teaching his disciples? Humility, and servant-leadership. The willingness to be a servant to those around you, even doing the lowliest of tasks, that you may do as Christ would have done, honoring both the Lord, and those you serve. Honestly, there are things we can do, in our homes, in our workplaces, and even in our churches, far worse than washing someone’s relatively clean feet. Like what? To answer that, just think of the one thing you hope you never get asked to do. And volunteer to do it. That might be cleaning the toilets. It might be helping to clear up after a church social function. How about serving in the church nursery, or teaching children’s Sunday School? Some people would sooner take a washcloth to someone’s smelly feet than do those things. But isn’t that what foot-washing’s really about: putting the needs of others above our own comfort, and doing things we would sooner avoid doing simply to serve and bless others?
I pray we would all find some way to “wash feet” this week, whether it’s in service to our families, or to our churches. Have a great week!