The disciples somehow had this idea when Messiah came it meant the end of Rome’s power over the Jews. Messiah would come and set up a new kingdom. We read in Luke’s gospel account that a fight had broken out over who would be the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 22:24). It wasn’t the first time (Mark 9:33-34, Luke 9:46). The crux of the argument is who would sit at Jesus’ right hand, a position representing power in this new kingdom. In the middle of this Jesus resets the narrative because he was about to ascend by descending. On the night he was betrayed…

John 13:2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” 

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 

12 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. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Jesus brings a kingdom that is upside down. He says the way up is down. The way to power is to give your life away in service. The way of strength is weakness. What did foot washing mean? It has multiple meanings but let me touch on just a few. First, in Jewish times, priests would wash both their hands and feet as a picture of becoming “clean” before the Lord. It pictures the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross cleanses us from our sins. Jesus says, unless I wash you, you can have nothing to do with me. So Peter says, then immerse the entirety of me, which give us this picture of baptism.

Second, atthe Last Supper, Jesus would have been the “host” and the apostles the “guests.” The feet of travelers in ancient Palestine would have been shod in sandals, and thus filthy from traveling on dirt roads. Washing the feet of weary travelers was a disgusting job delegated to a Gentile slave by the host. Not even a Jewish slave would be expected to wash feet. In fact, in some municipalities it was illegal to even make a slave do it. In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus shows his willingness to take on the work of the last and the least, which is what shocked the disciples so much. That wasn’t their idea of a conquering Messiah. 

Yet, Jesus teaches his disciples that his love is the kind of love that kneels. It’s the kind of love that doesn’t demand, it serves. If you look up, you might miss Jesus because the place you will see him is down in service. Then Jesus says something really radical: do this to one another.

Participating in a foot washing, honestly, feels uncomfortable. Why? For one it’s really uncomfortable having someone stoop low to take care of me. We’d rather be the one to serve than the being served. But even deeper it’s because our feet are the part of our bodies we often pay the least attention to. We don’t like people focusing on our feet that feel so dirty, disgusting or gross. We don’t like people messing with our feet that feel so unattractive. Some psychologists think that our faces are good at deceit – we can put on happy face – but it’s our feet that are pretty honest. Maybe you feel like your feet: a bit dirty, or unattractive, or even unnoticeable. 

So when we wash each other’s feet we are saying this: I know you are a mess. I’m the same way. We kneel in love and serve each other even in the parts that don’t feel attractive. We can rejoice because we have a Savior who serves us, who has washed us in our dirtiness. He had to get down that low to save us. And if He got down that low for us, then Jesus is saying we have to get down that low for each other. 

Power is emptied when we have the attitude of serving each other. How are you doing? No really, how are you doing? Taking time to listen to others and not fix. Laughing together. Encouraging each other by breathing courage into them – not just saying something nice or how they are doing a great job but how are they motivating you to follow Jesus. I believe when we have this attitude among us, this will bleed out into the church.