Washing the Disciples’ Feet: 2 Lessons for All of Us

Kids fuss and fight.  They pick at each other.  Believe me…ours are no different.  A couple weeks ago, their fighting was getting particularly bad, so I began to look for a story in the Bible I could use during our family Bible time to teach the kids about getting along and doing things for each other.  I decided to use the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  I started reading through it and making some mental notes for our Bible study.  However, a couple things hit me while reading it that I had never really considered before.  Listen to the way that John records this event.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.  And supper being ended, the devil having 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 to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. [John 13:1-5]

In that time period, individuals wore sandals most everywhere they went.  With dirt roads to travel on, we can only imagine what their feet would look like just a couple hours into the day.  Nasty probably doesn’t do it justice.  Because of this, it was common for the host to make sure that his guests’ feet were properly washed.  It was not only a sign of hospitality, but also of basic hygiene and cleanliness.

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples was not an uncommon event for that day (just take a look at Psalm 60:8).  So what’s the big deal about Jesus performing the washing?  There are tons of lessons that could be gained from this passage, but here are the two things that really stuck with me, and these are the things we have really pressed with our children in the past two weeks.

  1. We are never too good to do anything.  Even though a host might provide for the washing of his guests’ feet, it was very unlikely that the host was actually doing it.  The one actually performing the washing would most certainly have been a lowly servant in the house (because, let’s face it, it would have been a nasty job).  The ones having their feet washed would have been seen as socially superior to the one doing the washing.  It’s almost like the entry-level job that everyone wants to get promoted past as quickly as possible.  You didn’t want to be the new guy.  When Jesus stooped down to begin washing the feet of the disciples, he was socially putting himself at the bottom.  Saying he was being a servant was an understatement.  He was being the servant’s servant.  If Jesus can humble Himself to that level, to do something for someone that most would snarl their nose at, then who am I to ever say that I won’t do something that needs to be done.  It doesn’t matter what the job is.  Even if I’m the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, if someone in the church needs help cleaning a house that has been neglected for years, then I grab my rubber gloves and a mop.  At no point in my life will I ever “graduate” from having to do the entry-level jobs.  If my Savior wasn’t too good for that, then neither am I.
  2. We are to be kind to others, no matter how they treat us.  Notice what John said in verse 2.  He said that Satan had “already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him”.  It was not long after this that Jesus would be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18).  When Jesus started to gird Himself with the towel and grab the basin of water, do you think He knew what Judas was thinking?  Of course He did (Psalm 139:1-2).  When Jesus got to the feet of Judas, did He skip them and go on to the next disciple?  No.  But how many of us would have been tempted to do that?  If I had been in Jesus’ position at that moment, what would I have done?  Today, if I know that someone doesn’t like me, what do I do?  Better yet, what if I have knowledge that someone actually intends to do harm to me when he has the chance?  If that person needed help, would I help him?  Would I still go out of my way to do something kind for that person?  Or would I justify in my mind that I have no obligation to help?  Jesus didn’t.  This was the very man who was about to start the dominoes falling that would lead to Jesus’ torturous death, and Jesus knew it.  However, he washed the feet of Judas just like everyone else.  I should be no different in my attitude toward others.

It is easy to say that we want to be like Jesus Christ and to treat others like He did.  However, are we willing to take the position of the lowliest of servants to perform a kind act for someone else, even if that other person would not do the same in return for us?  If we truly want to be like Christ, then we will.

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