John 13:1-17 (NRSV)
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
It was customary that the lowest servant of the house would wash the feet of the guests as they came into the house, especially for a formal meal like this. For some reason, this didn’t happen when Jesus and the disciples came into the room. So they ate their meal with dirty feet.
This was more awkward than we might think. First, because of the sandals they wore and the roads they walked on, the feet would be dirty. Second, the disciples would eat a formal meal like this at a table known as a triclinium. This was a low (coffee-table height), U-shaped table. The guests would sit, and their status at the meal was reflected by how close they were seated to the host or leader of the meal. Because the table was low, they didn’t sit on chairs. They leaned on pillows, with their feet behind them. This meant that dirty feet could be unpleasantly close to the table during the meal. So the unwashed feet were conspicuous.
So why didn’t any of the disciples do this first? Any of the disciples would have gladly washed Jesus’ feet. But they could not wash His without having to be available to wash the others’ feet, and that would have been an intolerable admission of inferiority among their fellow competitors for the top positions in the disciples’ hierarchy. So no one’s feet got washed!
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
Jesus had loved His own. But He hadn’t finished loving them. He would love them to the end. The idea behind the phrase to the end is “to the fullest extent, to the uttermost.”
To the end means to the end of Jesus’ earthly life. Though the disciples gave up on Him, He never gave up on them. Though they stopped thinking about Jesus, and were only thinking of themselves, He never stopped thinking of them. Whose problems were worse – Jesus’ or the disciples’? Who was concerned more for the other? He loved them to the end.
To the end means a love that will never end. Jesus will never stop loving His own. It isn’t a love that comes and goes, that is here today and gone tomorrow.
To the end means a love that reaches to the fullest extent. Some translations have “He loved them to the uttermost.” Jesus poured out the cup of His love to the bottom for us.
2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
Few incidents in the gospel story so reveal the character of Jesus and so perfectly show his love. When we think of what Jesus might have been and of what he might have done, the supreme wonder of what he was and did comes home to us.
Jesus knew all things had been given into his hands. He knew that his hour of humiliation was near, but he knew that his hour of glory was also near. Such a consciousness might well have filled him with pride; and yet, with the knowledge of the power and the glory that were his, he washed his disciples’ feet. At that moment when he might have had supreme pride, he had supreme humility. Love is always like that. When, for example, someone falls ill, the person who loves him will perform the most menial services and delight to do them, because love is like that. Sometimes men feel that they are too distinguished to do the humble things, too important to do some menial task. Jesus was not so. He knew that he was Lord of all, and yet he washed his disciples’ feet.
Jesus knew that he had come from God and that he was going to God. He might well have had a certain contempt for men and for the things of this world. He might well have thought that he was finished with the world now, for he was on the way to God. It was just at that time when God was nearest to him that Jesus went to the depths and the limits of his service of men. To wash the feet of the guests at a feast was the office of a slave. The disciples of the Rabbis were supposed to render their masters personal service, but a service like this would never have been dreamed of. The wonderful thing about Jesus was that his nearness to God, so far from separating him from men, brought him nearer than ever to them.
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.
“When I am clean, Lord, keep me too,
For that is more than I can do.”
And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Scripture is full of references to washing and cleansing. HERE is a song that references Psalm 51: 7 — Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
1) Have you ever been part of a foot-washing ceremony? How did it feel? I have, and I find it a lesson in humility. (Many churches include this in their Maundy Thursday services.)
2) What can we do daily to wash one another’s feet? Or in other words — How can we love one another with Christ-like humility and kindness? What specific thing could you do for someone today in obedience to these commands (see verse 14) from Christ?
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.