Serving others sometimes involves dirty and undesirable tasks that none of us really want to do. Yet Jesus said that we would be “blessed” if we did them. What kind of blessing was He referring to? There is a lot of debate surrounding this passage of scripture, some holding to foot washing as part of the ceremonial ordinance like communion -the bread and the cup, and others tossing out the idea that we are to literally wash the feet of the saints.
“The evening meal was being served. The devil had already tempted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. He had told Judas to hand Jesus over to his enemies. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything under his power. He also knew he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the meal and took off his outer clothes. He wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a large bowl. Then he began to wash his disciples’ feet. He dried them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He 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.” Jesus knew who was going to hand him over to his enemies. That was why he said not every one was clean. When Jesus finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes. Then he returned to his place.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ You are right. That is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet. So you also should wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you. “What I’m about to tell you is true. A servant is not more important than his master. And a messenger is not more important than the one who sends him. Now you know these things. So you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:1 -17
I have had it both ways – in our past fellowship it was ceremonial footwashing, awkwardly done once a year to prove we followed God’s command. Women washed women’s feet, men washed men. The women more often than not left their stockings on. Absolutely no ones feet were dirty or unkempt, but to the contrary, properly washed and pedicured to look our best. I suppose that somehow it made us more holy to be willing to submit to this awkward practice of dripping water over a pair of stocking feet, while we all murmured a “praise Jesus” or two.
I am not meaning to be trite – but when I reflect back upon what it meant to me as a fairly new believer, I must admit that any spiritual growth or significance was really lost to me. Then again, I was in a legalistic cult at the time, and I couldn’t opt out for fear I would miss the mark, and disappoint Jesus. (Maybe even lose my salvation for not being “obedient to the Word.”)
Maybe awkward itself is the humbling part.
However, when Dave and I had a foot washing as a surprise ending to our marriage weekend, it was a huge success. The act of washing each others feet, combined with a vow of covenant, made for a really sacred time. The majority of couples all talked about it being the very best part of any weekend -symbolic of the commitment to serve each other and not themselves. Clean feet, sacred purpose.
It’s all about heart and attitude.
Acts of service are often dirty, smelly, difficult, and embarrassing. The humblest of jobs. Mary wiping Jesus feet with her hair seems pretty humbling to me. Pretty dirty and messy too. And very, very,loving.
Caring for the toilet needs of dying, elderly and infirm are also really humbling. It was much easier for me to wash stockinged feet than to attend to the most basic needs of elderly loved ones. How about midwives attending to laboring women? Nurses? But love goes into the deepest gutters to serve.
Mother Theresa did.
Let’s talk about the homeless. Their feet aren’t very clean. They usually smell, sometimes have lice, missing teeth… Our hands get very dirty.
We are just weeks away from Veterans Day but Halloween always gets much more P.R. than our nations military. We have the population of an entire city of veterans without a home, in need of a literal footwashing…
…as well as a figurative one – in need of love and care. They need someone to find them, help them, feed them, care for them, and love on them. We can’t always fix the problem, but we can try – we can at least educate ourselves in traumatic stress and try to enter into their world of darkness.
The light of Christ’s love shatters darkness brighter than any LED.
We can let them to know that they are not forgotten; let them know that the price they paid for us does not go unnoticed. We are thankful. Truly, deeply thankful.
There are two main points in the act of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples –
First, He was willing to wash the feet of Judas – the one who was going to betray him. (Anticipatory forgiveness -part 2 of this blog)
Second, washing their feet was sacrificial service beyond the call of duty. The Para-rescue of the religious services.
Jesus’ death was imminent. He knew that. He could have been hanging out, telling his disciples that the end was near so “take care of me,” and “serve me”. He could have been telling them he wanted to go hang out at home and enjoy His last days with his family.
If I knew that I had days to live, I don’t think I would be saying, “Hey, I’m going to spend my last few days serving the poor and washing their feet.” But not Jesus. Jesus wanted us to understand the importance of Christian service up until the end. Until it hurts.
Whether it is ceremonial or not, Jesus modeled for us the heart and attitude of acts of service. It is the very thing that under-girds every one of His words and actions. Everything is done from the place of love. If we don’t serve others, and practice ordinances with the heart of Christ, it’s just another washing.
And we know how he felt about that.
“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,but their hearts are far from me.