I was at a wedding over the weekend, and the couple chose to do something that I've seen many Christian couples practice during their wedding ceremonies--foot washing. It's a familiar ritual for many; maybe because you've seen others do it in different Christian circles and environments, or perhaps you've read the very famous example of foot washing (and coincidentally, the example the modern practice at weddings is based off of) in John 13.
As I meditate on the passage, I think there's some profound insight that is worth considering. In fact, Jesus' foot-washing carries significance far beyond mere wedding ceremonies or ritual practices within Christian circles. What Jesus does in John 13 sets the tone for how we carry ourselves each day, and offers a challenge for how we view and interact with people in the world around us.
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. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 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.
Foot-washing was actually a pretty common occurrence in the first century. The people all wore sandals and the roads were pretty filthy, so your feet would get pretty gross as you walked around during the day. Especially when people were reclining at a low table (as they did at here at the Passover meal), they wanted to have their feet washed because they were very much in view during their meal. It's not all that strange that foot-washing took place in this moment. The real strangeness of this passage comes not from the practice, but who is practicing it. Foot-washing was the work of the lowliest servants in a household. Think about it! They have to get their hands really gross and touch people's feet (definitely not something I can do without a bit of a cringe!). So, when Jesus rose from the table and began to wash the feet of the disciples, the Lord was doing the work of the lowliest of servants.
How do you think the disciples would have reacted? How would you react if this was happening to you? Jesus was their teacher and Lord--the highest position among the people in the room, and yet he was taking on the role of the lowest. Here's Peter's response:
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus 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!”
Peter was shocked! And if anything, he did not understand why Jesus was washing their feet. But the first few sentences of the passage give us a clue as to Jesus' purpose here that Peter did not perceive: "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." Jesus' actions here demonstrate how much he loved the disciples--he was willing to become the lowliest of servants for them; to serve them. It was by humbling himself and serving them so that they could be made clean that he demonstrated how much he loved them.
Let me take you to a couple of other passages that talk about how Jesus shows his love by humbling himself and serving others. First, Philippians 2:5-8:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
How does Jesus demonstrate his love in this passage? By humbling himself and serving others through his death on the cross. How does Jesus' death on the cross serve other people? It's through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection that he takes away the sins of the world! Take a look at one more passage--John 15:13:
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Jesus demonstrated his love by laying down his life. And who did he lay it down for? Everyone! Jesus love everyone. That means the disciples when he washed their feet, and that means you and me today. This is the truth about Jesus--that he loved us so much, he was willing to die for our sins so that we wouldn't have to experience death, but have eternal life with him.
Jesus' demonstration of love here forces us to respond in one of two ways:
If you've never done so before, recognize what Jesus has done for you; the love he has for you. Romans 10:9-10 says if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the death, you will be saved. Believe that Jesus has the ability to take away tour sins because he is God, and that his death and resurrection were the sufficient act of love and service to do that for you. Take hold of the eternal life Jesus offers.
Consider how your actions each day characterize you to others. Do you love people in the way Christ loves you? Are you humbling yourself in your words, your deeds? Are you "washing people's feet" with your actions? As Jesus did, think of others before yourself, put off your own desires, and seek to serve in every moment.
Our world is in the midst of turmoil, and each day we face a choice about how we will view and interact with the people around us. It's my prayer that the people of the church will step up during this time and lead through every action by washing feet.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. - 1 John 4:16b-21
Middle School Pastor