What does “footwashing” represent when Jesus washed His disciples' feet? What does it mean for us today?
Some years ago, I had the privilege to be a part of the Lord’s Supper in a church in California that believes we are to wash one another’s feet. We ate a meal together, celebrated communion, and concluded the time by each washing another person’s feet. I was a very meaningful time. It was also humbling to have someone wash my feet. Why? I did not know, but it was.
John 13:5-17 records the time when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet in the Upper Room.
Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (NASB) John 13:5
It was a serious time. Stop and imagine what His disciples must have thought. They must have thought, “Why is He doing this?” How did they feel? We are only told about Peter.
And so He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” (NASB) John 13:6
Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet. At the time of Jesus, a slave would wash his master’s feet, but rarely the reverse. In that culture when guests arrived at a home, it was the custom for the host to see that his guests’ feet were washed because they walked on dirt paths in sandals and their feet would be dirty. When Peter saw Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, I imagine he was embarrassed to have one who was greater than himself washing his feet. Jesus had humbled Himself when He performed the duties commonly done by a servant.
After Jesus finished washing their feet, He encouraged them to wash one another’s feet.
For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you . . . If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (NASB) John 13:15, 17
Some believe that we should wash one another’ feet as often as we take the Lord’s Supper, which is also called communion. Scripture does tell us in Acts 2:42 and in 1 Cor. 11:23-34 that we need to “do this in remembrance of Me” referring to the Lord’s Supper, but foot washing is never mentioned again anywhere in the New Testament. It appears that Jesus is encouraging His twelve disciples to repeat it. He also promises a blessing for those who do it. But the New Testament never tells us that we need to do this regularly.
What a wonderful lesson for us. Jesus wants us to be humble and to serve others, especially those we might consider “beneath us.” Often we want to do something special for someone we admire or greatly respect. Jesus gave us an example that we should do ” something special,” or be willing to humbly serve others we do not admire or greatly respect. Jesus revealed His heart for His disciples and for us in this simple act. Jesus did not just say “I love you.” He lived it and by His actions He said I love you!