John 13:1-17 ESV
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Humility in Serving
Disciples would serve their teachers by taking on many of the duties of a slave in Jewish tradition, but they didn’t wash their feet. That job was left for actual slaves. Foot washing in the first century was a very lowly job. The places that people walked were muddy and littered with animal droppings and other filth. Wearing nothing more than sandals left feet caked in the dirt and grime from the road. It was a dirty job, so Jesus humbly laid aside His outer garment, and then He scrubbed the feet of His disciples.
It makes sense that Peter, as a disciple of Jesus, protested the idea of his Teacher serving him in such a lowly way. He wouldn’t have washed the feet of Jesus, how could he let Jesus do it for him? His Teacher, though, insisted saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter, who was always zealous if not overly so, responded, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9, ESV).
Jesus taught the disciples by way of example that nobody is greater than another. If ever they thought that a job was beneath them or that they should be served by others, they were to remember what Jesus did. Jesus, who was God in the flesh, their Teacher and Lord, “took the form of a servant” and washed their feet (Phil. 2:7). This, then, is the type of humble ministry they were called to also.
In the midst of a global pandemic, when we are washing our germ infested hands constantly and staying away from one another so as not to spread a virus, I can’t help but think about the doctors and nurses and others who are humbly risking infection themselves to care for us all. On the other hand, there are those who, for a plethora of reasons, cannot understand or abide by the many mandated social restrictions on their life for the sake of the many.
The humility of Jesus exemplifies the better blessing of serving others. Jesus laid aside His outer garment to wash the disciples feet. Then, as John 13:1 says, “he loved them to the end” by laying down His life to cleanse their hearts from sin (ESV). In all of this He led the disciples to follow His lead and share with Him in the ministry of reconciliation. What He did for them He has also done for us. If we let Him wash us, we too can experience the true freedom of laying aside our own pride to humbly serve for the good of all.
Prayerfully consider these few questions:
- How does a threat to your status, safety, freedom, or otherwise, make it difficult for you to serve others?
- Consider how Jesus humbly laid aside everything to serve you and the world. In what way did He lay aside the very thing that causes you to wince?
- How is His way of laying yourself aside to serve others a better blessing for you and the world?