Scripture: Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
John 13:1-20 ESV [Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus resurfaces and passionately speaks to the crowd concerning his relationship with his Father, for those who believe Jesus is the Messiah sent by God inherently believe in God and see the likeness of God in him. Then, focusing on his mission, Jesus reminds them that he is the world’s light amid sin’s cloak of darkness. And whether or not one chooses to heed his words of light, his mission is to save the world. Still, humanity will be judged on “the last day” (referring to his second coming at the end of the age). Meanwhile, Jesus speaks solely on the authority of his Father, who sent him into our world and instructed him on what to say to his people: commandments that bring eternal life.
The setting for today’s text is the seder meal in the upper room on the eve of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. John succinctly mentions the Last Supper and immediately draws his readers’ attention to a unique ceremony found only in his Gospel. Illustrating both servitude and humility, Jesus removes his outer garment, takes a towel, ties it around his waist, pours water into a basin, and then washes his disciples’ feet. When Jesus comes to Peter, true to his personality, Peter insists that Jesus not wash his feet. But Jesus patiently explains to Peter that he will later understand the ceremony’s significance (after Peter’s restoration at the seashore (21:15-19). Initially missing the point, Peter asks Jesus to wash him from head to toe. So Jesus graciously communicates a deeper spiritual reality that one who has bathed need not cleanse themselves because they are “completely clean”—pointing to baptism (regeneration) in the Holy Spirit.
Of note: Regarding washing the guests’ feet, in ancient Israel, the master of the house would assign the lowest-ranking servant to complete this task as an act of hospitality—given many would have traveled by foot in this arid, dusty climate.
Takeaway: From this point forward in John’s Gospel, Jesus will no longer teach and instruct in a public forum. Other than brief responses to the religious leaders, their representatives, and Pilate, we read only of personal and intimate conversations with Jesus’ disciples. In this story, however, Jesus relies more on visual aids to leave indelible images in the minds of his disciples. In addition to the foot-washing ceremony, the seder depicts an aspect of Jesus’ mission: He is the Passover Lamb who will set his people free, but this time from sin’s bondage. While Moses could only lead Israel to the Promised Land, Jesus is our Promised Land, where we find safety from our real enemy (wily Satan) and an overflow of all we need to thrive (Jesus’ shalom blessings) as we serve one another.
Sadly, Judas, who refused to follow Jesus’ example, will self-serve and face a tragic ending (committing suicide once the magnitude of his betrayal impacts him (Matthew 27:3-10). But even Judas’ treachery will serve as a sign confirming the validity of Jesus’ prophetic words. (See Tuesday’s Daily Focus for an expanded explanation of God using those who reject him to serve his purposes.) That said, Jesus concludes this teaching moment with another aspect of his disciples’ commission: there is an intimate connection between Jesus, his disciples, and those who support them, for the kingdom workers and their supporters integrally share in the work of Christ.
What’s our takeaway? With the many generations of saints before us, we wash the feet of the least, the last, and the lost as the hands and heart of Jesus. Whether we serve on the front line or the reserves through prayers, financial support, encouraging words, or hospitality, we work together for one purpose: to glorify God and grow his Son’s kingdom on earth. Without question, I could not perform my duties as a pastoral counselor without ministry partners like you. And, hopefully, you understand your critical role and rejoice with me as we see the Holy Spirit restore lives and reconcile relationships. Together, we wash one another’s feet: those soiled in feelings of failure and shame, others crippled by abuse and abandonment, and still others fractured by the loss of health, wealth, and loved ones. But how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, proclaim peace and happiness, and announce salvation under God’s sovereign reign (Isaiah 52:7)? We are Jesus’ beautiful feet!
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who, fulfilling the messianic role of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, served your people with humility, grace, and the sacrifice of his well-being. And we thank you for his godly example in washing his disciples’ feet—reminding us to do the same for those you bring across our paths. So would you please strengthen us to follow your Holy Spirit’s lead, overcome our fears and doubts, and move toward the brokenhearted, washing their soiled, crippled, and fractured yet beautiful feet as the heart and hands of your Son? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling