Over 2000 years ago, people did not have nice shoes and socks like we wear today. Their shoes were simple sandals made of a few straps of leather. The minimal sandals didn’t offer much protection against dust, dirt and other things that you might find walking down a dusty road often traveled by people and livestock. In fact, most people traveled by walking so you can assume that their feet became very dirty from this.
During these times, it was considered a custom to have clean feet while sitting at the dinner table. Imagine sitting on the ground at a low leveled table staring at dirty feet while you eat. Bleh! That just doesn’t sound very appealing at all does it?!
Because this was a dirty and disgusting job, the lowest servant of the household was expected to wash the feet of the guests. Not only would everyone have clean feet at the time of eating, but it was also way to show honor to your guests.
At the time of his final meal with his disciples, Jesus demonstrated this same act of washing feet. This was his greatest act of servant leadership. Jesus gathered a basin, a towel and some water and began washing his disciples feet. The disciples were speechless. They could not understand why Jesus, the son of God, so holy and glorious would be washing their dirty feet.
Jesus came to Simon Peter. “Lord,” Peter said to Him, “Are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t realize now what I am doing. But later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter. “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you can’t share life with Me.”
“Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet! Wash my hands and my head too!”
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs to wash only his feet. The rest of his body is clean. And you are clean. But not all of you are.” – John 13:6-10
So why exactly did Jesus wash the feet of his disciples? Check out the scripture below for the answer.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. – John 13:12-17
Jesus wanted to show them that they were to lovingly serve others just as he has done for them. Yes it was a dirty job, but he looked past that and performed the service free from pride and arrogance. Jesus proved that no man is greater than the other and to never be ashamed or embarrassed to serve others. Do it from your heart as God wants us to do. This simply demonstrated a humble and loving service to others.
You can probably now see that this entire process was not just about washing the feet of others. The message is to learn how to break down your pride and be a servant to God all while loving one another. Jesus said to Peter that a person who has already had a bath only needs to wash their feet. The bath that Jesus spoke of may represent the cleansing of salvation but the occasional “stepping” in sin will require some washing and repentance. Our own pride, guilt and shame may cause us to pull back like Peter did.
Jesus is here to wash us clean and to share life with him.