“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”John 13:14
Most of us hate feet. We hate having other people’s feet close to us. We hate other people touching our feet. We don’t even like looking at pictures of feet. So, can you imagine having to sit down around a meal with a bunch of guys who have been walking along dirt roads in sandals all day – and YOU have to wash them?
But that’s exactly what Jesus does. This is their last meal together. They’re commemorating Passover one last time, not just as a Rabbi and disciples, but as friends, as a family. The only problem is no one arranged the foot washing part of the evening. Usually this would be done by a household servant, but they’re all from out of town. Being a bunch of dudes, I guess they just decided to carry on with their meal despite the smelly-feet situation.
Hopefully you know what happens next. Jesus takes it upon himself to wash the disciples’ feet. He does this out of unconditional, self-sacrificing love for “his own.” He leaves the table, takes off his outer cloak, ties a servant’s towel around his waist, and begins washing their feet. When he finished, he put his cloak back on and resumed his place at the head of the table.
This is the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 performed in real time. And I want to point out a few key takeaways from this holy/confusing scene.
- Jesus even washes the feet of Judas, knowing Judas would betray him. When Jesus said to love our enemies, I guess he meant it!
- Jesus also said the first will be last and the greatest will be a servant of all. I suppose he was serious about that, too.
- Jesus really does expect us to love each other just as he has loved us. He doesn’t expect anything from them in return for his service. He does, however, expect them to show each other the same kind of self-sacrificial love he just showed them.
Does Jesus mean we should perform literal foot-washing ceremonies? Not really. If you want to, then go for it. The greater practice of this command – wash one another’s feet – is to be willing to lay down our lives (or pride, dignity, rights, privileges) for our friends. That’s what the “greater love” looks like in action.