In preparation for my Maundy Thursday sermon, I relooked at the foot-washing incident in John 13:1–17. I have read this passage many times. As always, God teaches you new things each time you look at a passage. This portion touched me this time round.
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. (John 13:4,5 NIV)
Commenting on this, Colin G. Kruse writes:
It was knowing God had given him power over all things, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, that Jesus performed the footwashing. Knowing this did not make him think he was above carrying out menial service. Knowing full well who he was, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. (John [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003], 275–276.)
Jesus, aware He was the second person of the Trinity, washed His disciples’ feet. The foot washing flowed out of who He was. We worship a God who washes dirty feet. Of course He will do much more than that. He would go on to die on the cross for us.
We are so familiar with this passage that it doesn’t shock us any more. But the incident is shocking. It happened in a day and age when master would never serve servant in this way. And now we are reminded that the foot-washing servant is Teacher, Lord and God.
If we had been there, one of the disciples, we probably would have responded like Peter (with the best of intentions I am sure), refusing to let Jesus wash our feet. Yet Jesus makes it utterly clear that if we do not allow Him to wash us we cannot have a relationship with Him. If we do not accept His gift of eternal life we cannot have a saving relationship with Him.
This is bad news for those of us who want to wash ourselves. Only God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And He will do it if we allow Him. But if our pride makes us want to maintain the dignity of washing ourselves, and if we cannot subscribe to a reality where the leader cares sacrificially, we cannot be a part of the new reality that Jesus inaugurated with His death and resurrection.
Furthermore, if we claim that we have a relationship with Jesus, then the passage tells us we must emulate the example of our Teacher and wash each others’ feet, even the feet of our enemies, since Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Indeed, Jesus is very concerned that we go beyond right belief. We must actually act on it (John 13:17). We will only be blessed if we actually wash each other’s feet and, as a church, serve a broken world.
Foot washing may not be needed in our context today but its symbolism is clear: messy, smelly, humble service of others. Whether we do it or not may reveal whom our God really is. Do you worship a foot-washing God?
*Stock image courtesy of suchi187 / 123rf.com