The Washing of the Feet

In John chapter 13, when Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Passover, there comes a time when everyone washes their hands. We can’t be certain if this is the first or the second hand washing, but what we see is instead of washing the hands, Jesus gets up and washes the disciples’ feet. Foot washing goes all the way back to Genesis 18. In Genesis 18, Abraham sees three men coming toward his tent. He isn’t willing to sit in his tent and wait for them. Instead, he gets up and runs to them. Abraham says to the three men, “Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.”

What is the significance?

When you bathe, you’re body is clean. But, when you go outside to walk, the dust will kick up and attach to your feet and ankles. When you enter someone’s home, it is traditional to wash your feet. The significance, or at least modern day application, can be found in the very idea of it. When we walk through this world, we find that it will attach itself to our feet. It isn’t that we sin, necessarily, but that when we hear something, or see something, that is unholy, it can cause us to feel “dirty”. It isn’t that we indulged in it, but simply hearing dirty language, or seeing the magazines at the check out, or whatever it might be that sticks in our minds that we know isn’t pleasing to the Lord collects. We need to have our feet washed.

More important than Abraham’s foot washing, what is it that Jesus is trying to say?

Well, we can continue in the same line of thought. The Passover signifies coming out of darkness and into light. It signifies coming out of Egypt. The dust upon our feet that Jesus is washing off is the dust of Egypt. What is Egypt? Egypt is the Bible’s symbol for systems. It isn’t simply the oppressive nation. Systems can be educational, governmental, religious, or anything that desires to perpetuate itself and its goals more than take care of its people. It is because of the need to perpetuate self interest that the people are oppressed. They are only means to an end.

We can all have a little bit of Egypt in us. It is easy to get in the rut of finding people as objects, or means to a desired end, instead of fellow human beings. We’ve all been in the circumstances where we want something selfishly. I find that sometimes I have the ability to close myself off into my own world. I stop listening to others because I’m writing, or I’m reading, or I’m listening to a sermon. I don’t want to be disturbed. I want to be able to put my attention into what I’m doing. So I block others out in order to continue in what I’m doing. I’m acting like Egypt – lessening the value of those around me for selfish reasons.

I used to think that the name of Jesus was a genie lamp. It is written that anything we ask in His name He will give, right? So, I would vehemently declare in the name of Jesus for this or that – whatever I thought would bring me fortune or popularity – and hold onto this promise. I would like to suggest that this kind of prayer is taking the name of the Lord in vain. That is Egypt. It is based upon selfishness. It is based upon ambition, promotion, greed, lust, and preservation. It is not the wisdom of God. It needs to be washed away. It says in John 13:14, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” This is something we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to wash away the dirt of Egypt in one another’s hearts and lives.

How do we do this? “He got up from the meal, took off his outer garment, 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.” What is it that Jesus did here? Look at Philippians 2:5-11, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus took off the outer garment, just like He had already taken off the glory He had with the Father, and put on the clothes of a servant, just like He did not come to be served, but to serve. This is how we wash away the dirt of Egypt. This is what it means to wash one another’s feet. We humble self to seeing others as before self. We look for all opportunities to be the servant of all. In this, both by our lives and by our words, we wash away through the living water – the Holy Spirit – the dirt that has collected upon our brothers’ and sisters’ feet.

This Passover, while we’re washing the hands and thinking about the ritual cleansing that we’re supposed to be performing – even during the meal – let us keep in mind that we’re ultimately supposed to be washing one another’s feet, and not merely our own hands.

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