Lucia's Blog: 2021-05-02
Google Logo
Image Caption goes here.

Share!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

THE CUSTOM OF FOOT WASHING

 

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
John 13:14-15


One of the keys to understanding the character of God is to know the goodness or kindness that He shows toward His beloved creation, especially mankind. One of Jesus’ favorite quotations is taken from the prophet Hosea.  

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”  (Hosea 6:6)

"But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'"  (Matthew 9:13)

"But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.'"  (Matthew 12:7)

The word mercy or compassion is from a very important Hebrew word that broadly encompasses goodness, kindness, generosity, and mercy. It is the very character that Jesus revealed by His example as He walked among men. He did not regard it as impossible for men to achieve. Indeed He ordered the apostles to practice that kindness among themselves.

In John 13:14-15, Jesus washed the apostles’ feet and urged them to follow His example.  He commanded them to wash each other’s feet.  Does this command apply to us today?  Are we supposed to observe a ritual of washing each other’s feet as worship in the church? 

Let us first examine the whole context of John 13:1-20 to understand what Jesus was teaching.


I.   WASH ANOTHER’S FEET:

  • Background:  (John 13:1-5)

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him."


John 13 begins by saying, 

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (verse 1).   


Jesus knew that "His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father." Although He found Himself distressed in anticipation of the events that were about to occur, He didn't allow it to affect His actions toward His disciples. Instead of allowing the circumstances to absorb Him and take control of Him, "He loved them to the end," showing His love in many ways.

"And during supper," we find the twelve apostles present for the Passover supper (cf. Matt. 26:20).  We likewise see that “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him.”  (John 13:2; cf. Luke 22:3)

John 13:3 declares, 

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God.”  


Verse 3 highlights three specific things that Jesus knew: 

  1. He knew that He was divine and had come from the Father (cf. John 1:1, 14).
  2. He knew that He would be returning to Him soon, to the glory that He had laid aside to save mankind (cf. Phil. 2:5-11).
  3. And He also knew that He had all power and authority in heaven and on earth befitting one who had come from heaven and would be returning to it (Matt. 28:18).


John 13:4-5 declares,

Rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him."


John writes in a very detailed way Jesus’ humility.  Jesus’ actions showed a big contrast to the apostles’ behavior.  Why?  Because they had shown selfishness, worldly ambitions, and arrogance while they were arguing about which of them was the greatest at this dinner feast (Luke 22:24ff). How sad to be fighting for a throne and not for a towel!

To better understand the greater lesson that Jesus is teaching us, we must consider what is happening.  Let us take a look at John 13:3-5.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’”


In verses 3-6, Jesus is laying aside His garments and putting a towel around His waist, taking the form of a servant.  Jesus is performing an act of humble service as He became a servant to them.  When Jesus began washing the disciples’ feet, Peter said to Him, “Lord, do you wash my feet.”  Why do you suppose Peter asked this question?  Because the work that Jesus was performing was for someone else to do, not the son of God.  Indeed, this was a great lesson of service and humility!

Let us not miss out on what Jesus was trying to accomplish when He assumed the position of a servant.  Jesus’ purpose for washing or cleaning their dirty feet was to teach them true greatness. Every Christian must learn that greatness comes through faithful service and humility (cf. Micah 6:8; Matt. 5:3).  


II.  WHY DID JESUS WASH THE APOSTLES’ FEET?

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”  (John 13:6-11)


  •  So, What Is The Lesson of Foot Washing?

Let us consider four great lessons that every Christian must learn from Jesus’ example of servitude and humility.

    • It Was Needed:

Back in those days, the typical footwear in Palestine was a pair of sandals.  The people of those days did not wear tennis shoes to walk on pavement and concrete like we do today. .And though they protected their feet from rocks and other sharp objects, they could not keep the feet clean from dust, dirt, and mud.  Their feet would become dirty quickly.  It was the custom of the day to take off one’s sandals at the door where a basin of water was usually kept to wash one’s feet or those of a visitor. However, the service of foot washing went undone since there was no host present and no volunteer to perform such a lowly task in the upper room when Jesus and His apostles arrived.   Since Jesus was aware of this, He took the responsibility on Himself, girding Himself with a towel which He used to dry the feet of the apostles after He had washed them.  

Likewise, they did not sit at the table but reclined at the table with the feet tucked back. You see, when we sit at the table, we can hide our feet.  Foot washing was a custom done in people’s homes.   

Do you remember in Luke 7:36-50 when Jesus was in Simon, the Pharisee’s house, and the sinful woman was washing Jesus’ feet with oil and her hair?  Jesus said that Simon did not even offer him a basin of water to do His feet. In those days, foot washing was customary and necessary.  


    • It Was a Great Act of Humility:

Jesus' actions showed that what He was doing was much more than merely cleaning the apostles’ feet.  Why?  Because Jesus was teaching them a powerful lesson about true greatness and humility. However, His apostles did not fully grasp the message until later (cf. I Pet. 5:5).  Isn’t it remarkable how Jesus humbly washed their feet only a few hours before He surrendered to death on the cross for our purification!  Remember that it was through His sacrificial act of humility, His crucifixion, that mankind would be offered purification from their sins.

      • "You shall never wash my feet!"
 Although Peter's first response is understandable, he shows self-righteousness and arrogance as he questions the judgment of Jesus.
      • “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Here, Jesus answered Peter swiftly and sharply.  If Peter had refused to let Jesus wash his feet, it would have meant that he, Peter, did not want to take any part in the Lord’s work, His coming kingdom, and in the ultimate blessings to be bestowed upon the faithful. So, why did Jesus respond to Peter so strongly? Because one of the first and most important requirements of discipleship is complete and unquestioning submission to the will of God. I believe Peter was way out of line at this point.  He seems to understand this when he makes his next comment.

      • "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
Although washing was required for sharing in the work and favor of Jesus, Peter could not understand what Jesus was trying to teach them.  He reasoned that he could not have too much of it. Peter bounces from one extreme to the other, perhaps because he loves Jesus.  
      • "Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’”

The language of John 13:10 implies that they had bathed before coming to Jerusalem. Only their feet had become dirty and needed to be rewashed. 
      • "For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.'"
Jesus is talking about the heart of Judas.  And though Judas’ body was physically clean and Jesus had washed his feet, his heart remained evil.  Evidently, Jesus is using the act of foot washing as a symbol of inner cleansing. While it is true that He knew the other eleven apostles’ hearts as clean and pure, except for Judas, He was utterly aware that they had their own weaknesses of selfishness and jealousy. The heart of Judas had been impure and evil for some time (cf. John 6:64,70).  Most likely, Judas was aware that Jesus was on to him. And though this might have made Judas cringe, it did not keep him from completing his evil plan.

    • It Was The Correct Response To Christ’s Love:

"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.'"  (John 13:12-17)
      • "Do you understand what I have done to you?"
Although Jesus’ apostles were aware of what He had done by washing their feet, they still did not understand the significance of this act.  
      • “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.”
Even though they called Jesus their Teacher and Lord, Jesus did not seek a position of fleshly preeminence and honor. Instead, He humbly sought to serve others out of love. Jesus wants His apostles to learn from His example and be willing to serve others (and each other), even in the most menial tasks.  Were they supposed to see only the washing of feet? No! They were supposed to observe the humility of Jesus.  And though God does not need humility, He is everything. Think about it!  Listen to Paul’s words about Jesus.

"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent."  (Colossians 1:16–18)

      • “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

Jesus showed humility when He took the lower role. Godly love is self-sacrificing. A faithful disciple of Jesus has the mind of humility, for he practices humility like Jesus.  Jesus has shown us how to treat others with a humble and giving heart without regard for the shame, status, or honor codes.  Jesus became a servant to all even though everyone is lesser than He.  We cannot be His disciples unless we show humility.  

Sadly many of our friends in the religious world misinterpret this passage to say that it is our Christian duty today to wash each other's feet in the assembly. Foot washing, as a church ordinance, did not begin until the fourth century.  It was long after the great apostasy had set in. I must stress that Jesus did not institute the practice of foot washing since it was already a common and culturally accepted practice.  Jesus simply used foot washing to demonstrate the spirit of humble service.  Later that evening, Jesus did institute the Lord's Supper memorial. The Lord’s Supper memorial is something that He certainly wants Christians to practice in their assemblies (as seen clearly in the New Testament example, Acts 2:42; 20:7; I Cor. 11:23ff). The only other time foot-washing is mentioned in the New Testament is in connection with other individual acts of service (cf. I Tim. 5:10).

“And having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.”


In 1 Timothy 5:10washing the saints’ feet is listed as part of that lady's personal life (widows), service, and doing good to others. Again, it was not a worship activity, and it certainly was not a ceremony in which people washed feet.  

It is critical to acknowledge what Jesus was implying in John 13:15 when He said to do "as" He had done for them, and, unlike the Lord's Supper, He did not give instructions for the act of foot washing to be done until He comes again (cf. I Cor. 11:26).  Jesus wants His followers to have an attitude of selfless service.  The practice of foot washing in those days was an act of humilityHowever, in our society today, foot washing has never been a cultural act of courtesy or hospitality. For a person today to wash someone's feet would be to miss Jesus' point completely.  To follow Jesus' words literally would mean introducing a strange and ridiculous practice today.  It would greatly embarrass and inconvenience our guestsWhy?  Because the literal act of foot washing was to remove dirt from one's feet.  Jesus’ intention is to symbolize the spirit of humility and the need to perform the most menial acts of Christian service to others in love for all future generations. 

      • “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”  
A servant must always be willing to do that which his master does.  He must never be ashamed of it.  We are acting as if we are greater than Jesus when we refuse to give ourselves to serve others. We must be willing to serve even those beneath us.  We must give ourselves up for one another, for we are not greater than our Master.  But serving others beneath us is exactly what our Master did!  Let that sink deeply into your hearts!
      • "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”  (cf. Matt. 7:21; James 1:22) 

We must know that we must be humble servants to bring God’s blessings.  Practicing humility the way Jesus did means that we overlook the offenses of others committed against us. It implies a desire for reconciliation with each other and a heart of forgiveness, not bitterness. It means to give of ourselves to each other. It means that we do not consider what we deserve or what is beneath us, and is not worthy of our time or action. Humility means more than swallowing our pride, for pride blocks humble service and godly thinking. 

We are blessed when we refuse to think about ourselves when the occasion arises for us to serve others. We must not disregard Jesus’ teaching and example. We must give, give and give some more even when we cannot give anymore.  We must give ourselves to the undeserving (John 13:18-20).


    • We Must Humbly Serve The Undeserving:  (John 13:18-20)

"I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.' 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.'" 

      • "I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'"
"He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me." (cf. Psalm 41:9


Jesus declares that there is a betrayer among them. Why is Jesus making the point that He knows whom He has chosen? Because one of them is not a servant but a betrayer. Even though Jesus knew, "from the beginning" (John 6:64), that Judas would betray Him, that does not in any way mean that He forced such even to happen. Indeed, God can see the end from the beginning without causing it.  He can foretell anything without originating it.  The point of Jesus quoting Psalm 41:9 is to show that this betrayal is a painful one. Why is Jesus pointing all this out? Because Jesus had humbly served the betrayer, even though He knew he was the betrayer. This is to show that there is no loophole in our acts of humble service

You see, Jesus did not send out the betrayer and then wash the apostles' feet. Rather, Jesus washed Judas’  feet, the betrayer, and then sent him out.  No one gets the label of “undeserving of service.”  No one is exempt. Jesus served him whom He knew was going to harm Him.  Thus we must serve others and follow Jesus’ example.  We must not serve only those we like, are nice to us, or treat us well.  We must give ourselves completely in service, even to those who hurt us.  Yes, we must serve the one who lifts his heel against us!
      • "I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he."

If Jesus had not spoken of Judas' betrayal, the disciples might have found enough reason to doubt Him, thinking that Jesus was completely surprised by Judas' deception. However, Jesus mentioning Judas' betrayal ahead of time led to the strengthening of their faith. Jesus did not want Judas’ deceitfulness to shake the faith of the other apostles. 
      • Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” 
Jesus wanted the apostles to believe that He was sent from the Father and that His messengers were also messengers of the Almighty God.  
 

CONCLUSION:

Foot washing was indeed a remarkable act of humility!  It was uncommon for someone of esteem to wash another’s feet. Why?  Because foot washing was the work of slaves or something that one did himself.  By Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, He was teaching us a great act of humility and selflessness.  He left an excellent example for His disciples to follow and for us as well (John 13:15).  So, the question at stake is:  Did Jesus leave the example to perform an outer act of foot washing, or did He leave the example as a godly act of service and humility? God was not commanding an outward ritual act, for He wanted them and us to grasp the message of the outward act.     

For Jesus to perform such a menial service for His inferiors was a powerful lesson to them, and it should still be such for us today. No disciple can ever rightly claim to be above the performance of even the lowliest of services. If Jesus was willing to act humbly as a servant in His infinite greatness, there is not a single follower of His today who should consider themselves as being beyond such service.

In John 13:12, after Jesus had finished washing the feet of the disciples, He asked them, 

“Do you understand what I have done to you? 


Verse 12 is the key phrase here.  Jesus is challenging His disciples to grasp the significance of what He had done.  The answer to Jesus’ question is not just a “yes” but the excellent lesson that He is teaching His disciples. 

So why don’t we perform foot washing today? Because foot washing is not necessary today like it was in Jesus’ day.  Also, it would not have the same meaning for us today that He wanted His disciples to grasp.  And though it is not necessary for us today to literally wash each others’ feet, let us not cast this away as cultural, ignoring the Scripture.  Why?  Because we still must perform acts of service for one another as commanded by our Lord.  We still must do those things that we believe are beneath us to please God and go to heaven. 

Jesus’ message of humility and selflessness to His disciples back then still applies to us today.  God expects no less of usWe must humble ourselves and do those things we think are humiliating when serving others!  Nothing must be beneath us when we serve others. Jesus, our Lord, has left an excellent example of servitude and humility as He became our Servant.   We must serve others as Jesus did.  There is nothing culturally obsolete about that. 

So what happened after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet?  Judas went out from the foot washing and the supper and betrayed Jesus (John 13:29-30).  Imagine Jesus serving the very person who would betray Him!  What Jesus wanted them to learn was a much deeper, life-changing lesson, humility. He wants you and me to learn it also. How well are we learning?  Jesus is asking what we will be: self-serving like Judas or serving others with humility like Him? When we refuse to humble ourselves, that is, bring ourselves low to serve others, even our enemies, we are unworthy servants and self-serving.  

You see, servants serve. Servants serve others. Servants do what must be done.  Since Jesus was willing to carry out the lowest of tasks on behalf of His apostles, we also must surely learn to serve. These are profound lessons that Jesus is teaching us to put into practice today to serve others humbly.  But to accomplish Jesus’ example and teaching of humility and servitude, we must first start thinking like a servant and esteem others as better than ourselves.

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4).


May we obey Jesus’ teaching of servitude and humility and train ourselves to think and act like a true servant of Christ.  May we humbly serve others as Jesus did when He washed the feet of His disciples.  May we serve Jesus, taking the way of the cross, for the cross is humility.  May we never forget that we are servants of Christ and that our lives, relationships, and actions are not about us but for Jesus and others in humble service.  May we love and humbly serve Jesus and one another, for this pleases our Father in heaven.  May we always strive to do God’s will.  


Luci