John 13:5 (ESV) … “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
An old proverb says, “Actions speak louder than words,” and the Lord’s willingness to wash the feet of his disciples, even Judas’s, reflects servant leadership at its best.
People who are familiar with first-century culture will immediately recognize how socially inappropriate this behavior was. Never in Jewish, Greek, or Roman society would a superior wash the feet of inferiors.
We must remember that in those days people wore sandals, not shoes. The paths they walked on were dirt. Therefore, after walking about, one’s feet would be dirty and sweaty. It was customary for the host to wash the guests’ feet as they came into his lodging. However, not one of the disciples volunteered to do this task which was often done by a lowly servant. Instead Christ set about to doing the foot washing. This would be a major rebuke to the disciples’ pride. One final lesson about humility and service. A lesson they would never forget and a lesson we would need also as followers of Christ.
If we are to count ourselves as followers of Christ, there must be humble service in our lives. We must be people of the towel. More specifically, we are to wash one another’s feet. While Christ does not exclude washing the feet of those outside the church, it is meant primarily for brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. That is in some respects more difficult. It is easier sometimes to humble ourselves and wash the feet of those we do not know. But those in our own families? Or fellow believers whom we loathe, that we have not spoken to for years? But Jesus’ instruction was clear: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
When we do this, it will have a cleansing effect upon other believers. Jesus is saying that the church has received the essential cleansing by him in the forgiveness of sins, but we can help take away the day-by-day dirt of the world by humbly serving one another. We will thus encourage one another to godliness.