In John chapter 13, we read about the account of Jesus and his disciples eating the Passover meal together. At some point, Jesus does something very perplexing for the disciples… and us today, but perhaps for different reasons.
3 Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.
The washing of feet is a foreign practice to us modern westerners, but at this point in history and in this culture, it was common practice for a household to provide water to their guests so that they may wash their own feet (Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Jug 19:21; 2Sa 11:8; Luke 7:44). Only if the household was of a higher financial status did a lowly servant perform the task, because to wash another’s foot was a servile task.
For this occasion, water appeared to have been provided, but none of the disciples deemed it necessary to wash their own feet, let alone anyone else’s. It didn’t matter that their master continued to teach them that the greatest among them would be a servant to all (Mat 23:11, Mar 9:35; Luke 22:26), they must have assumed limitations. Besides, they were comfortable with their filthy feet, and even more ambivalent to each other’s.
So, what does the Master do when His words fail to reach past the ears and into the heart? He leads by example. So, the Son of God puts picks up a towel and a bowl of water and starts making the rounds. The Creator of the Universe, the one who intricately fashioned the foot with such purpose (as to propel the body forward and keep it upright), washed His creation clean.
I really think that my understanding of this passage is hindered by my cultural experiences. Typically, I don’t wear sandals as I walk to every one of my destinations (the only means of transportation for most) in the hot sun (consider the sweat) and along dusty roads where beasts of burden have most certainly relieved themselves. Quite frankly, my feet aren’t that dirty. Therefore, if someone offered to wash them, I might consider it a nice gesture, but more awkward than valued. However, if I could see the cracked dust caked upon my feet, and smell the feces between my toes, and feel the discomfort of my hot, dry and itchy feet—then not only would their washing be necessary, but I’m sure I would find the act refreshing and immensely appreciated.
And now suddenly, I feel such a task very beneath Jesus, my Master, my Messiah, my God.
And how much more does this apply to my sin. If my sin isn’t that dirty, then its cleansing isn’t that appreciated… perhaps more awkward than valued. Perhaps this is where I also misjudge Christ’s greater act of service—His death on the cross—because I fail to see the need of my cleansing and filthiness of my sin. Like Uzzah, (see 2 Sam. 6:6-7), I think that a little dirt (which does exactly as its Creator commands, and from which we all were made, Gen 2:7) is more offensive than my sin (which is me REFUSING to do what my Creator has told me to do). Furthermore, sin is not just something on me, picked up on my travels. No, it is a part of me, a direct excrement of my heart (Mat 15:19). Therefore, Jesus’ act of cleansing my sinful soul with His blood is monumentally more sacrificial than His service of cleansing my soiled sole with water.
May we all meditate on this glorious truth, recognize the massive debt we owed (Rom 6:23), its gracious forgiveness (Luke 7:41-43), and be overwhelmed by His generosity and servitude on our behalf. Perhaps then our hearts may swell with worship and love for our great and glorious Savior as they ought.