“During supper,… He (Jesus) 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.” (John 13:2a-5)
The practice of foot washing was a practical observance when a visitor entered another individual’s home in Israel 2,000 years ago. A good host would not only provide food and lodging, but also make sure a menial servant washed the guest’s feet. A comparable example today would be either offering a house and dinner guest a beverage or offering to take their coat and put it in a safe place until they leave.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “When people traveled the dusty roads of ancient Palestine in sandals, their feet would get dirty, and a servant commonly washed the feet of guests before they joined the master of a house for a meal. But most Jews saw this task as demeaning, so it was given only to the most menial of servants.”
It is imperative for us to understand the specific seating arrangement and posture of the disciples while Jesus washed their feet. They would not be seated at a table like we would be or as depicted in da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Rather, the disciples would all be reclining on thin mats around the table, each leaning on their left arm.
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Luke points out (22:24) that they were arguing about who was the greatest of them, so that none was willing to stoop to wash feet. When Jesus moved to wash their feet, they were shocked. His actions serve also as symbolic of spiritual cleansing (John 13:6–9) and a model of Christian humility (vv. 12–17). Through this action Jesus taught the lesson of selfless service that was supremely exemplified by his death on the cross.”
Consider the following verses as they pertain to serving one another.
Galatians 5:13 – “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
I Samuel 12:24 – “But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”
John 12:26 – “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
Joshua 22:5 – “But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Regardless of what covenant God’s people have been under, Old or New, God called His children to be obedient servants of Him and on behalf of one another. We may no longer wash people’s feet but we are to serve in any practical way we can to those in need.
May we do so today.
Soli deo Gloria!