Summary: A practical & spiritual look at the footwashing service with Jesus.

"Between the Toes Too Please"

John 13:1-17

Pastor Dave Campbell

If you’ve ever spent time around farm animals, you may see a number of similarities between them and us people. Chickens, for example, have an interesting tendency to set up a social order in which the strong pick on the weak. Or maybe I should say "peck". The most dominant chicken will peck on the head of weaker chickens. The next most dominant bird then pecks on everyone else’s head except for the chicken more dominant than him, and so it goes all the way down to the lowliest chicken. Everyone pecks on his head and he pecks on no one. He is quite easy to spot. He’ll be the bleeding, bald-headed bird always looking over his shoulder. This is called the "pecking order".

The term has often been used to describe the way humans set up a social order whether in small groups or large communities, but especially in small, close social situations. We can even see it happening in the social dynamics that took place between the disciples of Jesus. More than once we see them jockeying for position and bickering over their prominence in the Kingdom. This quest for position and power appears to come to a full head by the time Jesus had the pass-over meal with them in the upper room. One by one, they filed into the room prepared for this special meal with Jesus. I’m sure when they entered, they would look around for someone to wash their feet before eating, but since no one was arranged to serve in this manner, they sat down with dirty feet. The job of washing the feet of dinner guests was the task of the lowest slave; the one at the bottom of the pecking order. With thoughts of glory and grandeur in their heads, none were about to wash any old feet! Jesus now gets up from the table to the astonished, blank gazes of the disciples, removes his outer clothing and wraps a towel around His waist and provides us with one of the most beautiful and significant living parables in the Bible. This event provides us with very practical and spiritual applications:


In a practical way, this story addresses the issue of:


Over and over, Jesus taught his followers about the value of humility. Now the Lord placed them in a situation in which they must act it out. To be effective as Christ-followers, pride would need to be broken! A cursory look at the book of Proverbs reveals a great deal about the problem of pride. Proud people seek prestige and honor (25:6). The proud individual believes that he is control of his own future (27:1) and is self-reliant (28:26). He will be blind to his own faults (30:12) and will exaggerate his own attributes (25:14). Egotists in the end have a tendency to stir up strife (28:25) as we have seen happening in the relational dynamics of the disciples. Pride sets us up for a fall (16:18), turns people against us and us against them (13:10), debases people (29:23) and puts us in trouble with God (6:16,17). No wonder it is at the top of God’s hate list!


By nature, we like our privacy. A more senior pastor and close friend of mine used to greet me enthusiastically whenever I met him at a conference. He would grab me and talk to me just inches away from my face. Way too close for me! The more I tried to back up, the closer he got. I could see every pore in his skin and tell what he had for breakfast. More than I wanted to know. What was worse, he could tell if I had any blackheads on the end of my nose and that was more than I wanted anyone to know! He was just a warm and friendly guy, but he invaded the borders of my private and personal space and it made me feel uncomfortable. The problem with valuing our personal space is that real ministry occurs up close and personal. Laying on of hands, anointing with oil, caring for the sick cannot happen at a distance and I suspect that Jesus wanted to get that across to these future healers of hearts.


Whenever I ask someone the question, "What would you find most difficult: washing someone’s feet or having someone wash yours?" The answer was always the same. Having someone wash my feet bothers me a bit. I confess. I have a very independent streak in me. I do for myself thank you very much and these feet don’t need your help. I can wash them on my own, no problem. Besides, I don’t want another person to see the dirt between my toes and under my toenails. I have been dealing with toe jam for a good many years now with out the help of other people and I’ll be just fine now. The problem with this thinking, however is that it is far from the spirit of the Christian faith. An independent nature is not a highly valued trait for a Christian. In fact, we are placed in a family where we are mutually dependent for ministry and encouragement and edification. We need each other to survive and flourish as a church. (PS: The Lord and I are working on it.)

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