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The Message of John (Lesson 18)
Washing Feet | John 13:5
“After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
The story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet takes place during the Last Supper, a meal that Jesus shares with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion.
John 13:1-5 sets the scene, explaining that Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to be crucified. Rising from the table, Jesus took off his outer garment, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel.
It was shocking and unexpected for Jesus, who was regarded as a Rabbi and a figure of authority, to perform such a humble, servile act. It was not only unusual for someone in his position to engage in such a task, but it was also contrary to social norms and expectations. In fact, when Jesus began to wash the disciples' feet, Peter objected and refused to let him do it, saying, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" (John 13:6)
In the time of Jesus, washing the feet of guests was considered a lowly and menial task, reserved for the lowest of servants.
It was a necessary task, as people wore sandals and walked on dusty roads, causing their feet to become dirty and in need of cleaning. However, it was not a task that anyone enjoyed doing, and it was considered beneath the dignity of most people, especially someone of Jesus' status as a religious teacher and leader.
All of this challenged the cultural and social norms of the day, which valued status, power, and prestige.
The shock and surprise of Jesus' act of washing his disciples' feet underscores the radical nature of grace, which can be seen as a prelude to the ultimate act of service on the cross, where Jesus didn’t just kneel down to wash feet but was nailed upon a cross to cleanse us from sin.
Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet not only serves as a prelude for the cross, but calls us to do the same.
Jesus instructs his disciples that if he, their Lord and teacher, has washed their feet, they also should wash one another's feet (John 13:14). And in so doing, they will be blessed. Notice the blessing is not only for the one served but the one who serves like Jesus.
As citizens of his countercultural kingdom, we’re invited to a different way of living. Not one that values valued status, power, and prestige, but values humility, service, and love, where blessing is not found in rising to the top but in taking the lowest place.
Why was Jesus' act of washing his disciples' feet was so shocking and unexpected?
In what ways does Jesus' act challenge cultural and social norms of our day?
What does Jesus washing their feet teach us about the nature of grace?
What does it mean to live in Jesus' "countercultural kingdom," and how can we embody this in the way we interact with others?
How does the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet lead us to reflect on the significance of his ultimate act of service on the cross?
What can we learn from the fact that Jesus' act of washing his disciples' feet not only served as a prelude for the cross but also called his followers to serve one another in the same way?
How does the idea of being blessed through serving others challenge our usual understanding of blessing and reward?
Dear Father in heaven,
As we reflect on the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet, we’re reminded of the radical nature of your grace.
Teach us to embrace the countercultural kingdom of Christ, where blessing is found not in rising to the top but in taking the lowest place. May we be willing to serve others in the same way that Jesus served his disciples, and may we find joy and fulfillment in the act of selfless love.
Thank you for the ultimate act of service that Jesus demonstrated on the cross and pray that we will continue to grow in our understanding of your love and grace, and be empowered to live out this love in our interactions with others.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.