“Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean’.” (John 13:10 ESV)
When we read the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet in John 13, we might be tempted to skim through, thinking, “Oh, I know this story, it’s about serving.” But in doing so, we might miss another lesson nestled within this story.
So the story goes, the disciples and Jesus were getting ready to settle down to a meal. It was the custom of the time to not only wash hands before eating, but also to wash feet. Since this was a rather undesirable job, it was usually left to a servant to do this for all the guests. Since there were no servants within this group getting ready to eat, they either had to wash their own feet or it fell to one of their number to take on this job for the rest. It really was unthinkable to lower themselves to the level of slave and actually wash the feet of another, so while the disciples prepared to wash their own feet, Jesus donned the towel and knelt at their feet. Yes, this is a story of servanthood, and yet there is something more here. This is also the story of cleanliness.
Starting in verse 6 Jesus has a discussion with Peter about the deed of washing feet. While the others seemed to have no qualms about their Lord washing their feet, Peter was appalled! How could his Master, the One with the highest rank among them, the Messiah wash feet? And yet, Jesus explains to him that it is necessary. Why? To teach a lesson on humility? Yes… but what does He say in verse 8?
“Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me’.” John 13:8
Ah… this isn’t just about servanthood. Jesus isn’t talking about washing feet here. We are washed, made clean by the blood of Christ: “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). Sin stains and can only be removed by Christ Himself.
Peter misunderstands, but being Peter, he wants to go all the way and exclaims,”Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” He wants so much to be part of Christ that he will do anything for Him. Oh, that we had his devotion and willpower, sometimes.
And Christ answers, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” Once we are cleansed in Christ’s blood, we are made fully clean from sin (Heb. 10:19-22). Even though we still make mistakes, we are still clean. Jesus is talking about feet.
Feet determine where our bodies go. And sometimes feet stumble, sometimes we step in something we shouldn’t. Sometimes we get our feet so dirty that it is difficult to see the sparkling interior that we have thanks to Christ. It is because of this that Christ dons the towel and washes our feet once again. We need His discipline, we need to be scolded once in a while, we need to be lead back to the right track and guided so we can avoid once again stepping into something we shouldn’t.
Back to servanthood, Christ asks us to wash each other’s feet. Let’s look out for each other. In serving each other, we can also help keep each other on the right path, help each other when we trip, and help wash each other’s feet when we step in something we shouldn’t by leading each other back to Christ who cleanses us of all our mess. He is good.