Washing The Disciples Feet | Wayne Massey

John 13 

Jesus washes his disciples’ feet

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round 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 round him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’

Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’

‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’

Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’

‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’

10 Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. 13 ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


John 13.1-17

The way Jesus washed his disciples’ feet before they sat down at the Last Supper was truly shocking. Firstly, it was a shock to realise that he chose to wash the feet of the person who was at that moment planning to betray him.

But also, in their culture where honour and shame were very important values, Jesus behaved in a shockingly counter-cultural way. Feet that had walked in open sandals through filthy streets needed to be washed before the meal, but it was the lowest of the slaves who would do it. Jesus as a Rabbi, a teacher, would naturally expect to be honoured by his followers. Here he cut through all that – no wonder Peter expressed everyone’s horror at seeing him ‘shame himself’.

So how could Jesus make this stand? It comes down to a simple fact: he knew who he was - the Son of God, and everything he did flowed from that sure sense of identity. Jesus couldn’t have flouted the strong cultural values of his day and been able to serve others with no thought of status, if he hadn’t felt utterly secure in his sense of identity.

Perhaps we think that our own situation is rather different from knowing you are the Son of God! But when we put our trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, we get drawn into that relationship of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We hear those words that Jesus heard: ‘You are my child’. We are invited into a relationship of love with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’.

Knowing who he was set Jesus free, and we are invited into the same freedom to live for others in a counter-cultural way.

That might work out practically, as we take time to listen to someone even though we feel drained. Or perhaps we’re able to cut some slack to someone at work, or even remain positive to a ‘Judas’ in our life – and all this without feeling used or abused.

Spiritually we might hear something God wants to say to another person, and be able to let them know, without getting hung up on what they’ll think of us. That freedom from our own self-consciousness can lead someone to the amazing realisation that God knows what’s going on in their life. It can give them the courage to go and find prayer for their situation or to hand everything over to God, maybe for the first time.

Jesus explained to his disciples that he wanted them to copy what he had done in the way they behaved with each other, and he said they would understand all this much better later on. Washing their feet was a sign pointing to the ultimate way Jesus would use his freedom to serve those he loved. It pointed like a signpost to the Cross where he would take on the sin and the mess of the world so that all who believed in him would find eternal life.

When we know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, stepping into our identity as God’s children and living out that freedom, our lives can become signposts to that truth. Jesus said ‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’ God wants us to know that in Jesus we’re known, loved and free, and on that basis we can live counter-culturally for and around others, pointing them to the one who died on the Cross and who comes to save each and every one of us.

Wayne Massey