6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, ”You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, ”Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, ”One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” – John 13:6-10a
John records that at his last supper Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. In fact, the significance of washing feet overpowers the importance of the meal in John’s Gospel. The only mention of a meal in John 13 comes as Jesus speaks of dipping bread and handing it to his betrayer. But when it comes to the foot-washing, there is an extended narrative about that event.
Of course the primary teaching in Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet is in showing the importance of service in the kingdom of God. Jesus makes it clear that in the kingdom there is no servant class with a separate class of nobility. Our devotion to God is shown as we out-serve each other in a spirit of love. Foot-washing was a powerful act by our Lord.
There are other important lessons Jesus’ followers can learn at Jesus’ disciples’ feet. Look in particular at the exchange between Jesus and Peter, who was initially reluctant to allow his Lord to act as his servant. Perhaps we can all understand Peter’s feelings of unworthiness. “You will never wash my feet,” Peter protested. Surely we all understand that having the Christ serve us is offensive to our understandings. Of course, that is just the point. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of servants. Jesus is clear that we have no part of this kingdom if we are unwilling to be served by our Lord and to follow his example by serving others who have no claim over us.
Notice Peter’s further reply. When Jesus tells Peter that he cannot be a true follower unless he allows Jesus to wash his feet, Peter exclaims, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Peter goes to the extreme, but Jesus instructs otherwise. “There is no need to go to ridiculous extremes,” he tells Peter. “It is only your feet that need washing.” This passage centers in on the great temptation to go overboard, to make our faith legalistic, moralistic, self-righteous, even absurd. It is tempting to think that if a bit of piety is good, an excess of piety would be better. If reading the Bible is good, perhaps reading only the Bible all the time would be better. When we go down that road, we are saying, “Not my feet only but also my hands and head!” Jesus reminds us that we need not make our faith extreme. God does not desire overkill… just a servant’s heart. That’s a pretty good lesson, don’t you think?
Lord Jesus, make my heart pure, my desire to serve sincere, and my devotion pleasing to you. Amen.
A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston