Summary: If Jesus, our Lord and Teacher, washed his disciples’ feet, we also should serve each other, there should be no task, no role, no effort that we will not do for each other.
The Problem of Dirty Feet
Scripture Reading: John 13:1-17
Text: John 13:14
They arrived in groups of twos and threes,
laughing boisterously. . .
They were Galileans, all of them but one,
and they were men of the sea,
men of the soil,
and—a couple—men of the sword.
They were all disciples of the Teacher and miracle worker called Jesus, Y’shua;
and they entered, several at a time,
into the upper room of the house in Jerusalem
where they’d met before.
Jesus entered in the midst of them,
and in the space of just a few minutes,
all had assembled
in the rectangular room with the low ceiling.
Suddenly, however, something changed.
Facial features which, moments ago,
had been animated—
smiling, laughing, talking—
now reflected uncertainty and discomfort.
Though no one spoke of it,
everyone in the room faced the same dilemma,
everyone felt the same awkward apprehension.
the roads and alleys that these men had traveled on their way to this “upper room”
were not paved roads.
In fact, in most cities of that time and place, paved roads were unheard of.
The streets that these men trod
were more like winding dirt trails,
all covered with a thick layer of dust.
Therefore, it was the custom for the host of a home to station a slave at the door to wash the feet of the dinner guests as they arrived.
The servant knelt with a pitcher of water,
and a towel,
and washed the dirt or mud off the feet of each guest as he or she prepared to enter the home. Shoes and sandals were left at the door.
If a home could not afford a slave, then it was customary for one of the early arriving guests to graciously take upon himself the role of the servant and wash the feet of those who arrived after him.
To enter a banquet hall such as the upper room
with unwashed feet
was to them
like entering a restaurant in our underwear
might be to us.
So, though no one spoke of it,
everyone faced the same dilemma:
someone really should wash their feet.
In the midst of the stilted conversation that revealed their discomfort,
Jesus—their Teacher, their rabbi—
strode quietly to the low table
that occupied the center of the room.
The table was surrounded
by cushioned couches,
the head of each couch placed against the table
like thirteen spokes in a wheel. . .
Jesus took his place at the table,
reclining on one elbow,
in such a position where he could survey all twelve of the men he had chosen to follow him.
And all twelve
as casually as they could manage,
chose their places
on the couches around the table. . .
the servant’s pitcher, pan, and towel
to sit undisturbed by the door.
The table was spread with plates and cups,
and the fragrance of the roast lamb
and the herbs
and the bread
mingled with the odor of the unwashed feet
that hung over the ends of the couches.
A few awkward moments passed after the last man took the only remaining couch.
Jesus, without saying a word,
slipped away from the table,
silently pulled off his outer tunic,
and with the towel, pitcher and pan in hand,
knelt at the feet of the disciple nearest him.
What little hushed conversation there had been
Jesus moved quietly from man to man
while every eye in the room
The disciples were speechless while he
quickly and efficiently
performed his servant’s task,
first pouring water from the pitcher over each pair of feet,
allowing the basin on the floor beneath to catch the water and dirt that flowed down,
then wiping his men’s feet dry with the towel
he had wrapped around his waist as an apron.
Having tenderly wiped the feet of Andrew,
Jesus moved to the next couch,
the one occupied by Peter.
Peter, visibly disturbed,
drew his feet up onto the couch;
“Lord,” he said,
“are you going to wash my feet?"
Reaching out a hand, Jesus gripped one of Peter’s feet and pulled it back to the edge of the couch.
“You do not realize now what I am doing,” Jesus said, “but later you will understand.”
And Peter once again drew his feet away
from Jesus and said, half pleading,
“No... you shall never wash my feet.”
Then Jesus, seeing Peter’s pride disguised as humility, peered into the fisherman’s eyes and said,
“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Suddenly silenced by the severity of the Lord’s words, Peter locked gazes with Jesus for a long moment while his mind whirred.
“Then, Lord,” he said finally, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”