Summary: When reflecting on serving Christ with our effort and time, we are called to do so in the way Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. This is our example to follow.
Yes, our focus on making a commitment to serve God with our hands begins with a story about feet.
Our Bible story takes place at a time shortly before Jesus would give up his life for us. Jesus and the disciples were making arrangements to celebrate a special holiday meal together called the Passover. Jesus knew the time was coming when he would be arrested. From that moment on until his death on the cross, he would be separated from his friends, his best friends. He loved them very much, and he wanted to do something that would demonstrate in just a small way how much he loved them - before he demonstrated how much he loved the whole world by giving his life.
And so we read of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Now, in and of itself, footwashing in ancient Middle Eastern culture is not a oddity. In fact, it was a common sign of hospitality, because foot travel was the major form of transportation and foot hygiene was so very important. Traveling those desert footpaths, one’s feet became very dusty and dirty.
When coming together for a celebration or dinner, when one had company over, it was customary to provide a basin of water and a towel for one to wash and dry their feet before lounging at the table.
I suppose, it might be equivalent to the host or hostess taking your coat as you arrive at their home, or even you going to washing your hands before actually sitting down to the table at a dinner party.
It was good, common courtesy for the host to provide the basin and towel, and it was good common courtesy to remove the dirt from your feet before lounging at your host’s table - they didn’t sit in chairs at a table to eat. They sort of laid on cushions at the table close to the floor.
If the host happened to be a little better off than others, they would provide a servant to actually wash the feet of the guests. If the host did not have slaves, then the host would provide the basin of water and a towel for the guests to wash their own feet. Or, the host could do the footwashing with great pomp and circumstance.
I think of a big business executive having a party at their home. There is a big production made of the hospitality extended to lower workers in the company. The hospitality is, I guess you could say, the spotlighted entertainment for the evening. And there is nothing wrong with that, really. Such a host or hostess wants to communicate, “I care about you to the extent that I am willing to go to such lengths to make sure you have a pleasant time in my home.” And the host or hostess goes to great lengths to make sure you feel welcome and are made very comfortable. Nothing wrong with that.
But that’s not what Jesus did. Or maybe I should say, its not the manner in which Jesus did it, and that is really how Jesus made this common form of Middle Eastern hospitality so distinct, and also upset Peter.
Perhaps the disciples expected to wash their own feet. I don’t believe they expected e a servant to be there to wash their feet. The Scripture doesn’t tell us this, but it seems so out of character and context for Jesus, the Disciples, and Jesus’ teachings.
It seems most likely they either expected to wash their own, or they expected Jesus to extend hospitality to them in a more high brow, honorary way. Maybe this is something they expected Jesus to do with pride, being very ceremonial, very prestigious.
But that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus took off his robe, and wrapped a towel around his waist. By doing this, Jesus was dressing himself in a most humble, demeaning way. He was taking the position of a no-account - the lowest of the lows as far as human standards go.
My storyteller’s eye imagines that the quiet but jovial conversation among the disciples must have died down very quickly as Jesus began to wash their feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. I wonder if they exchanged uneasy, questioning glances with one another. One or two of them might have gasped as Jesus began the menial task of washing their filthy feet as a lowly servant.
I imagine them standing or sitting there in shock, awkwardly no one saying anything thing or moving. But then, Jesus comes to Peter, and for the first time, someone speaks up - not to what Jesus is doing, but the manner in which he is doing it.
John tells us it was a way for Jesus to demonstrate in some way the extent to which he loved them. John writes, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extend of his love.”