Today’s passage: John 13:1–17
Focus verse: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)
John shares the story of when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. This perplexing account confuses many people and often leaves us wondering how to react. Before we explore this, let’s pull back and look at the context.
Jesus’s days on earth are nearing their end. He loves his followers. And despite the physical and spiritual pain he will soon endure when he dies on the cross as a sacrifice for the collective sins of humanity, his love will persevere.
At this challenging time, he wants to show his disciples how much he loves them.
They’re reclining around the Passover meal, when Jesus gets up to wash his disciples’ feet. Feet washing is an expected custom of the day that should occur before the meal, but no servants are around to perform this menial task.
The disciples may assume they can skip the tradition this one time.
Jesus has other ideas. He’ll do it. Taking on the role of servant, the master intends to serve his followers. He will wash and dry their feet before they eat.
This makes Peter squirm. The idea of his Rabbi doing this humble job doesn’t sit right with him. And he may feel guilty for not volunteering to do this himself instead of leaving the task to Jesus.
When he objects, Jesus says, “Though you don’t understand what I’m doing now, you will later.”
Peter says, “I won’t let you wash my feet. Not now. Not ever.”
Jesus persists. He washes the disciples’ feet, including Peter’s. Completing his task, Jesus returns to his place at the table. After the meal, he explains what he did.
“You call me ‘Teacher,’ and you’re right to do so. I’ve taught you one more thing through my example. As I have washed your feet, wash each other’s. Now that you know this, do it. You’ll receive blessings when you do.”
In an act to show his love, Jesus humbled himself to wash his disciples’ feet. Since a pre-meal foot washing is no longer a custom today, we’re left to ponder if we should physically wash one another’s feet or treat this as a figurative command to serve one another.
If we pursue a literal foot washing, we do so as a rite since the act no longer serves the practical purpose it once did. The practice carries no value now.
The better practice may come from applying Jesus’s example and looking for ways to serve others. When we do, we act in his name. Our actions will bless the people we help, and our obedience to Jesus will bless him.
- How can you better love others?
- How willing are you to serve others in a menial way?
- Where do you fit on the humility/pride scale?
- What can you do to figuratively wash one another’s feet?
- What do you think about your actions serving as a blessing to God?
Discover more about washing feet in 1 Timothy 5:9–10. What insights can you glean from this passage?
Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.