The foot washer
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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. NIV
Foot washing was an old custom in Israel. When a visitor came to a home, the owner would provide a basin of water and a towel for the visitor to wash off the dirt and grime from the street and dry his feet before entering. When a special visitor arrived, the owner would assign one of his servants to wash the feet of the visitor. It was a mark of honour, reserved for important people. The job of foot washer was usually reserved for the most menial servant in the house, often a slave.
At their last evening meal together, Jesus suddenly got up and began to wash the feet of His disciples. They were stunned. They felt uncomfortable and did not know how to react. It was unthinkable for the master to wash the feet of his followers. They should be washing His feet instead of Him washing their feet.
He had turned an old custom on its head to make a point.
Peter, outspoken as always, refused to have his feet washed until Jesus rebuked him saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8). And immediately he replied, “”Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
Jesus went on to explain that what He was doing had nothing to do with physical cleanliness for He added that, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean…” (John 13:10-11). It was not really about spiritual cleansing either for in John 15:3, Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
It was a symbolic act of something far deeper and greater: He washed their feet to set an example of what servanthood meant. He came to serve, and all those who would serve in His name would have to have the same heart, serving others instead of demanding to be served.
His actions also spoke of His great love for His disciples and for all who would believe in Him. He was saying to them by His actions that although He was the Son of God, He would go to any length for them, do anything to serve them, humble Himself to the level of foot washer even, for them.
As He held each foot in His hands, there must surely have been tears in His eyes because these were the feet of men He loved with an overwhelming love.
And what’s more, I believe that through them, He was washing our feet too.
Think about that – this God whom we worship and serve – washing our feet in Christ! Our immediate reaction would have been like Peter’s. I know I would think of how unworthy I am to have Jesus wash my feet. I think of all the times I let God down, the times I failed Him, sinned against Him. It’s too much for Jesus to wash my feet!
And He would say to each one of us: Because of Calvary, because of My word that is in you, you have been made clean. This is not about spiritual cleansing or physical cleaning – it’s just My way of telling you that you are precious in My sight and I would gladly do the lowliest thing for you because I love you so much.
At that last supper, in the disciples, Jesus washed your feet, too, as a sign of His overwhelming love for you. He has forgiven you. He has made you clean. But more than that, He wants you to know that He loves you. And He says to you now: Do not look back at your past failures or fallings. Forget about the disappointments and all those things that brought you down. In washing your feet, I also wash those things away from you. In washing your feet, I lift you up and I honour you. You are restored, made whole and covered by My love. Now live life to the fullest and fulfil the plan My Father has for your life.