It is all condensed into seventeen verses. One might even press the argument that two of those verses are ancillary to the focus of the story. The scene was “before the Feast of Passover”. It included all of The Twelve. They had gathered to share a meal; a simple occasion that would become indelibly imprinted on each one’s memory and conscience. The story appears in the thirteenth chapter of John’s gospel. Considering the best scholarship applied to this matter, it seems some sixty years would have passed between the night of this event and John being led of The Holy Spirit to write the record on paper. Sixty years. John, no doubt, had pondered over that night countless times. Early in the chapter there are two statements made concerning Jesus that are somewhat defining. They are intriguing to those who pursue the richness of Christology. In verse one and three there are mentions of Jesus possessing knowledge. The original words lean to the idea of becoming or having become more aware. Jesus “knew … He should depart from this world to the Father.” The same general concept is found again in verse three; “Jesus, knowing … that He had come from God and was going to God.” Jesus was certain of His identity and ultimate destiny incorporated into the master plan. That certainty gave rise to an unwavering confidence in His role here on earth. These several verses make a subtle yet astoundingly strong point. Jesus did not fear losing status among The Twelve, or any other group for that matter, by taking on a task commonly assigned to the lowest esteemed servants. He knew who He was before His Father. I would humbly suggest that knowing who we are before The Father is genuinely needed in the heart of all who endeavor to serve The Kingdom. When we know we have been born into The Kingdom, when we perceive clearly our calling in The Kingdom, when we understand our role in The Kingdom, we should be willing to undertake even the most trivial tasks. Yes, yes, I understand the need for delegation to others, etc. – see Acts 6. Nevertheless, this remains significant; the attitude of service. Mere “lip service” towards the notion, or “I paid my dues long ago”, or “you newcomers need to learn some valuable lessons so I’m letting you do it” will not suffice. On the evening that John 13 describes, Jesus was at the outset of horrendous proceedings – crucifixion. Moreover, He knew what lay before Him. John is so precise. Read it slowly, allow his words to draw a picture in your mind. Jesus “laid aside His garments”, Jesus “took a towel”, Jesus “girded himself”, Jesus washed the feet of The Twelve. It is worth noting here that what Jesus began, He finished. John makes no note of what the various disciples thought. The reader is left to assume the event unfolded in an awkward, near silence. The few sounds are the shuffling of dirty feet, the rustling of robes, the soft splashes of water. Perhaps a few were wide eyed and slack-jawed in amazement, maybe others dropped their head in embarrassment, possibly others tried to assist and were gently denied. Regardless, we are left to assume it apparently all happened without the exchange of words. But, almost predictably, as Jesus slides the basin near his feet, impetuous Simon Peter has to say something. He begins with a question. His next words are an emphatic statement of just how he thinks and wants this scenario to unfold. Actually, his design is to put a halt to the proceedings. When Simon Peter stops long enough to hear his rabbi’s reply, he suddenly blurts out a reversal of his previous insistent statement. It seems these pupils of Jesus had only thought of clean feet. After having heard Jesus speak, Simon wanted to expand the envelope – feet, hands and head. Well, The Savior was thinking on an entirely different level. After quiet was restored Jesus began with a question, “Do you know what I have done to you?” It is one of those inquiries that even though you may think you have the answer, it is much better to hold your peace. (By the way, keep an eye on that word “know.”) The rabbi continues. “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.” It’s just my opinion, but I feel like this statement put a smile on the faces of The Twelve; it comforted them, reassured them. Things seemed to be coming together, they had used the right titles, what they said was correct and best of all “Jesus said so”! Jesus now has their rapt attention. He goes on. His statement is worded “your Lord and Teacher”. Rushing through the text one might not catch it. It’s slight. Yet, it is loaded with immense significance. Jesus reversed the order of the terms. The word translated “Teacher” expresses the idea of one who teaches concerning the things of God. The word rendered “Lord” conveys the ideas of ownership and of being in control. The Twelve said “Teacher and Lord”. The implication is that their attitude was: explain all of this to us first; then we will decide if we want to follow Your instructions. Jesus places the terms in opposite sequence. His desire is that we see Him as our ultimate authority, even before clarity to His instructions come. It’s a matter of trust, it’s a matter of obedience, it’s a matter of aligning ourselves with the divine plan. Well, the little crowd now has clean feet. I’m pretty sure they are beginning to understand the bigger picture of what Jesus was teaching about cleanliness. But there is more. I can imagine the eyes of Jesus looking into each of The Twelve’s faces. Then He says it, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
I want to say that I have been part of some literal foot washing services. It was impactful. A great number of those I first participated with have gone on to their reward. In some way, that makes the memories of those brief moments kneeling on the floor much more humbling and meaningful. I also want to say, I don’t think that is all Jesus had in mind with this foot washing episode. We all walk by, and sometimes through, some surroundings that get grime on our feet. It has been noted more than once that pastors can go from the joy of welcoming a long awaited, healthy newborn into the world and then turn to minister to a deeply distressed family, grieving the loss of a loved one from a tragic incident. Our feet get dirty. Dirty with stress, gloom, confrontation – both deserved and undeserved. Dirty with grief, physical weariness, mental weariness, emotional weariness. We are clean, our souls have been “bathed”. But our feet are dirty from the daily mission. I hope you will recall the word “know” that we drew attention to earlier. Jesus knew all this would come about. He knew then. He knew we all would get dirty feet, tired feet. He even knows right now about our dirty, tired feet – your dirty, tired feet; my dirty, tired feet. He knows and He has a plan. He said, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
You might ask, ‘how does this work?’ Well, let it begin with us, with me. Lord, I have dirty feet. But let me lay aside some garments that may hinder, let me find a soft towel of concern, let me wrap myself in the attitude of service. Let me find a basin and fill it with the warm water of mercy. Because Lord, I see my brother, my sister and they have dirty feet. Lord, I want to wash the feet of Your children. I want to encourage them, I want to bless them, I want to refresh them. I need to do this not just from the elaborately decorated stage, but in quietness – shuffling feet, rustling robes, soft splashes of water, few words. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” If we will wash others feet in obedience to Him, the time will come that someone will arrive who will wash our feet. Please don’t be like Simon and try to reject the gesture. Sit down, place your dirty feet in the basin and allow help, refreshing, and cleansing to flow. Ok, it may be a phone call, a short visit at home, a quick meeting at the coffee shop, or a text. Who can guess how it will come? Just sit down and permit it to happen. Then be sure to express gratitude to the one with the basin and to the One who set the example. Let me conclude with this. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” I’m sure you see it again – “know”. If I “know these things”; if I have come to realize my own need of being refreshed, if I have come to understand that others need encouraging, that’s an important awareness. But the blessing comes as we “do”, as we follow the example of Jesus, as we “wash one another’s feet”. Yes, there is something to learn from the encounter The Twelve had with Christ on that night long ago. It may well be that as you wash the feet of a weary fellow pilgrim, you may encounter the presence of our “Lord and Teacher”.
Eddie McFalls was given a new birth, by God’s Amazing Grace, in January 1980. Since that time, he has enjoyed innumerable blessings. One of those blessings is being married to Debbie for 40 years. God has granted them two remarkable children; Amos, currently Campus Pastor of Christ Church Ruston, LA and Katy, who serves at Church of The Crossroads in Corinth, MS. Both of their children are married to devoted and talented servants of the Lord Jesus. Other blessings have been to serve The Kingdom in various roles and time frames – pastor in Hastings, NE; assistant pastor in Corinth, MS; principal of a Christian school. In addition, God has opened the door for him to visit various foreign mission fields – Mexico, Trinidad, South Africa & Zambia – speaking to congregations and participating in seminars for resident ministers. His great desire is to honor The Savior.