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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.

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The Problem of Dirty Feet

Scripture Reading: John 13:1-17

Text: John 13:14

They arrived in groups of twos and threes,

talking loudly,

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.

You see,

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,

a pan,

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

slowly

as casually as they could manage,

chose their places

on the couches around the table. . .

leaving

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

ceased.

Jesus moved quietly from man to man

while every eye in the room

followed him.

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,

half insisting,

“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!”

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