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.”
He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. Jesus was the model servant, and he showed his servant attitude to his disciples. Foot washing was a common act in Bible times. People traveled mostly on foot in sandals across the dusty roads of Judea. When entering a home, it was customary to wash one’s feet. To not offer to wash a guest’s feet was considered a breach of hospitality (see Luke 7:44). Washing guests’ feet was a job for a household servant to carry out when guests arrived (1 Samuel 25:41). It was a subservient task—wives might wash their husbands’ feet; students their teachers’ feet, etc., but not the other way around. What was unusual about this act was that Jesus, the Master and Teacher, was doing it for his disciples. He wrapped a towel around his waist, as the lowliest slave would do, and washed and dried his disciples’ feet.
CURE FOR CONTENTION AND PRIDE
The other Gospel writers record a discussion the disciples had on the way to this meal when they argued about who would have the greatest position in the new kingdom. Jesus’ humble service contrasted sharply with their search for high places of prestige in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20–24) and their desire to be considered the “greatest” (Mark 9:33–34; 10:35–44; Luke 22:24–30).
Unselfish service to each other and to those not part of the inner circle was to be one of the distinctive marks of Jesus’ true disciples (see 13:34–35). When we feel the temptation to pride or to competitive comparisons with other believers, the antidote will be a healthy dose of service. One great starting place would be to pray for those we serve who most irritate us!