John doesn’t give us the Last Supper/institution of the Lord’s Supper but he does give us the “rest of the story.” It was not uncommon in their day to enter a home for a meal and expect to have your feet washed by someone in the lowest position, usually a slave. The point was, doing that was for someone of a lower status. To take it upon yourself would be like going into a 5 star restaurant today, asking the waiter to sit in your seat, which tables he is serving and then pay for his meal while handling his tables. We just don’t typically think like that. In reading John 13 you wonder if the question on the minds of the disciples upon entering the upper room was “who is going to lower himself and do the feet washing here?” (Not an intended parallel by John as John doesn’t even mention the upper room but still kind of ironic). They all came to the same unspoken and yet very real conclusion, “Not me!” Jesus was going to show them something about who he was that would point them one step closer to what the cross itself was all about.
It was not unusual for the disciples to jokey for honor and position. They had once argued over who was the greatest when the greatest was in their midst. Now they get their feet washed by a king. His foot washing was the outward expression of the inward feelings we learned about a few verses earlier, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” Jesus took on the role of a servant and washed all 24 feet in the room. 4 of those feet belonged to people who would either betray or deny him in just a matter of hours but he washed those too. Jesus was not in this to bring honor to himself or to uphold a lofty position in this world. He knew true honor came from being a servant.
In the last verses of the foot washing story Jesus leaves them with a warning and a blessing.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” – John 13:12-17
If you flip that around Jesus is saying, if you refuse to do this for others you are claiming to be greater than I am. No one would be willing to say such a thing but if we refuse humility that is exactly our prideful declaration to the world. So the implication is we better let the foot washing commence! Obviously we don’t need to have our feet washed today like those did who walked dirty roads in sandals. But the concept is paralleled in other ways today. In what ways should we lower ourselves to meet the needs of others? How do we see people in a way that is devoid of status, power, prestige, and all the other things that blind us to what is really important and valuable about another person?
Does Jesus really want us to wash feet? In a way he does. He wants us to live out parallel acts, in whatever form necessary, that lower ourselves and recognize the worth of those around us. Notice the last thing he says in verse 17. Blessings will result. I cannot remember a single time I have served another person that I wish I had stayed home. Service results in blessing. How have you seen Christians humble themselves through acts of loving service?