1Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
Dear God, I think I’m correct in stating that John is the only one who gives us the foot washing story at the Last Supper. What a remarkable thing for him to remember and convey. First, he is the narrator so he gets to add his own editorial to the story. Here’s what John wants us to know:
- Jesus is aware of what’s about to happen to Him the next day (verse 1)
- Jesus loved His disciples and was ready to show them how much He loved them (verse 1)
- Jesus was self-aware enough to understand His own power (verse 3)
- All of this prompted Him to express His love to the disciples by washing their feet (verse 4)
Then John gets to describe the scene. Everyone at the table seems to willingly accept Jesus washing their feet until He comes to Peter. I’m sure the others felt the same awkwardness that Peter felt, but it was Peter who had the courage to put words to it. Peter’s problem was that he didn’t quite understand what servant leadership looked like. Jesus was teaching a lesson.
Back when I was in my early twenties, I was the leader on a church retreat for a church out of Houston. There was a rough group of about three or four kids who went on the retreat that had mainly middle class kids. They were hard to handle. At one point, we decided to blow their minds by washing everyone’s feet, including theirs. I think it was a good idea, although we didn’t execute it very well. Or maybe we did. We kind of did it out of the blue like Jesus does here. The kids were confused, and I’m frankly not sure it did anything to change their behavior or their receptiveness of your message during the week. But as I think about it now, their reaction was pretty similar to Peter’s, but not because they had so much respect for us that they couldn’t receive our service. I think, for them, it felt more like a way we were trying to humiliate them.
As I further unpack this, I went on a retreat a couple of years ago where the leaders wash the feet of the participants. But are we getting it wrong with doing this? Or maybe not wrong, but are we accomplishing something different than Jesus was accomplishing. The premise within which Jesus was working was that He was their obvious superior. He was their rabbi. He was the Messiah. He was God. And He was now washing their feet. He was loving them. If I am with a group and decide that it is time to wash their feet, what I am communicating to them? Especially if there is no previous relationship. Am I subconsciously setting myself up as their leader?
Father, I don’t know that I resolved anything today or if I might have even gotten some of this wrong this morning. But I do think this has made me think about this story a little more. I have probably treated it a little too casually in the past and possibly done more harm than good in times like that summer at camp over 25 years ago. If I did—if I hurt those boys in any way, I am sorry. As I try to figure out the real lesson of this story—that I am to love others through serving them—help me to do it in a way that is truly sacrificial and not in a way that passive aggressively lift me up over them.
In Jesus’ name I pray,