|Vol. 14 No. 1 January 2012||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
John 13:1-30 records the episode where Jesus took it upon himself to wash the feet of His apostles. Ordinarily in the ancient eastern world, upon entrance into a home, one would wash the dusty road from his bare feet, or a servant would perform this function upon a guest at the behest of the host. Sandal clad feet and dirty, unpaved boulevards were the backdrop for this antique custom. In another Scripture, this footwear combined with filthy thoroughfares was the basis of a symbolic gesture of disdain. “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet” (Matthew 10:14).
The occasion of this feet washing – not foot washing that some well-intending but misguided moderns practice as worship – took place following the conclusion of the last authorized Passover meal. Though the apostle John did not include it in his biography of Jesus, between the Passover dinner and feet washing, our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23) or communion (1 Corinthians 10:16).
Removing His outer garments, Jesus – the second person of the Godhead – the Creator – in human form – proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples – specimens of creation. This was a tremendous overture of humility on the part of our Lord! Even more, Christ’s humility stood in stark contrast to the conniving arrogance of the apostles toward each other as they strove for opportunistic preeminence in what they incorrectly perceived as a budding, earthly organization. Demonstrating dissension in their loosely confederated apostolic band was routine for them (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 9:33-37; 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-27). Especially two apostles were politically misaligned to such a degree that without the influence of Jesus, one might have well murdered the other. Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 10:3) for the despised Roman government whereas Simon was a zealot (Luke 6:15), which animosity of that political party led to the ill-fated attempt of the Jews to overthrow Rome’s rule; consequently, Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed in A.D. 70.
Repeatedly, our Lord had verbally addressed the jealousy among His disciples. Time after time, Jesus taught that servanthood was the correct path to leadership and greatness in His kingdom (Matthew 20:26-27; Mark 9:35; 10:43-44). Jesus Christ emphasized again and again that He, for instance, came to serve rather than to be served (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45). Finally, in John 13, the Holy Christ – our Savior – acted out through washing their soiled feet what He had been teaching them orally, howbeit with apparently little success. The apostle Peter in particular was humiliated to have the Master stoop to the lowly position of servant of all to wash feet (John 13:6-9). None of the apostles had been humble enough to assume the role of washing the dirty feet of their fellows, but Jesus humbled himself – making of Himself an object lesson that they could not overlook. Afterward, He gave the explanation and application (John 13:12-16).
In addition to the foregoing, did you ever pause to ponder that our Lord also washed the feet of the traitorous apostle Judas? Judas Iscariot left the gathering after Jesus concluded His living lesson about humility (John 13:26-30). Yet, Jesus Christ was well aware earlier in the evening that Judas had betrayed Him to His Jewish enemies (John 13:2, 11). How could our Lord knowingly demonstrate such humility even to Judas? Jesus’ humility knew no bounds! He had already humbled Himself upon laying aside the praise and honor due Him when He departed from heaven (Philippians 2:5-8) to be born of a virgin – born into a poor family (2 Corinthians 8:9) whereupon His first baby cradle was an animal’s food dish! Finally, our Lord Jesus humbled Himself to be murdered on the cruel cross (Acts 8:32-33) by the very humanity He came to save.
As we imitate Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21), we need to learn humility. For you and me, too, serving others is the pathway to greatness in the kingdom of our Lord. We especially demonstrate humility when we lower ourselves to minister to others who ordinarily we might think (at least subconsciously) are less talented or gifted in some way than we are; it is less of a demonstration of humility when we yield ourselves to older, more experienced or renowned brethren. However, can we muster humility toward those specifically offensive to us – for whatever reason or for no reason at all? The inspired apostle Paul taught:
“Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:16-21)
This Jesus did in so many ways so many times during His earthly ministry. Our Lord validated these virtues in His own life, among other times, when He washed the feet of Judas, His betrayer. What you and I need to do when our feelings are trampled upon is to go wash Judas’ feet! When someone slights us or takes advantage of us, we ought to go wash Judas’ feet! We might feel like getting someone’s attention by rapping him or her on the noggin with a stick of lumber, but instead, we should go wash Judas’ feet! We might find temporary, earthy satisfaction by letting the air out of all four tires of an adversary’s automobile, but Jesus with more at stake than trifles washed Judas’ feet. May we all humble ourselves and wash Judas’ dirty feet!