Laura Miller | Category: Children's Sunday School
It’s not something we easily relate to in our culture and time. Footwashing. Without a context, it’s even harder to explain to children. And if you have children who, like the Wicked Witch of the West, seem to view water as a weapon of mass destruction, the likelihood of them “getting it” decreases significantly.
In the culture that Christ and his disciples lived, however, footwashing was an everyday necessity. Standard footwear fashion was sandals, and infrastructure in the Roman world, while improved and improving, had resulted in still only a few roads being paved. Thus, the daily journey to the market, the fields, the workshop or the temple built up layers of dirt on the feet. Moms then, being not much different than moms now, did not want that dirt tracking into their homes, so a basin of water sat at the entrance of every home for footwashing. Now, as most households employed servants or kept slaves, obviously this demeaning and dirty job was given to the most menial of servants or slaves, particularly when guests arrived.
After a long journey to Jerusalem, the group arrived at the home where they would be taking the Passover meal together. Jesus had recently rebuked them for obsessing about places of honor in the Kingdom. He had just been received into the city as a King by fawning mobs hoping to stir up anti-Roman, pro-coming-earthly-Jewish-kingdom-ruled-by-legendary-Messiah sentiment. We are not told whether the routine footwashing had not taken place when he and the disciples entered the home, but at some point during the meal, Jesus took up the elements and donned the garb of a servant and began washing the feet of the disciples.
Philippians 2:6-7 tells us that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” This is evidence of that nothingness that Jesus made himself to be. The experts in the law of the Old Testament had drummed phobias about the spiritual disaster that accompanied germs and everything carnal into the minds of the Jews that it was unheard of for anyone other than the lowliest to touch dirty feet. The lowliest were expendable, you see.
Matthew Henry comments upon this passage:
Jesus washed his disciples' feet, that he might teach us to think nothing below us, wherein we may promote God's glory, and the good of our brethren. We must address ourselves to duty, and must lay aside every thing that would hinder us in what we have to do. Christ washed his disciples' feet, that he might signify to them the value of spiritual washing, and the cleansing of the soul from the pollutions of sin.
Peter reacted (let’s say it together) as only Peter could. “You shall never wash my feet!” Well-intentioned Peter missed the point. I would have, too. Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” I can just imagine the scores Peter would get on the myriad of social network quizzes out there: always swinging from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus replied, “’The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” (John 13: 10)
Again, Matthew Henry:
All those, and those only, who are spiritually washed by Christ, have a part in Christ. All whom Christ owns and saves, he justifies and sanctifies. Peter more than submits; he begs to be washed by Christ. How earnest he is for the purifying grace of the Lord Jesus, and the full effect of it, even upon his hands and head! Those who truly desire to be sanctified, desire to be sanctified throughout, to have the whole man, with all its parts and powers, made pure. The true believer is thus washed when he receives Christ for his salvation.
Peter’s words were the ones recorded for Scripture, but I imagine others protested. I wonder what Judas thought. I wonder if he said anything. We know that as the keeper of the money for the group, he was already critical of Jesus’ priorities and care for the souls of others, not approving of monies wasted on ceremonial attention to Him. On this, Matthew Henry says:
[W]hen hypocrites are discovered, it should be no surprise or cause of stumbling to us. ... When we see our Master serving, we cannot but see how ill it becomes us to domineer.
The children in the catechism class this past Sunday expressed a wide range of reactions to having their “feet” washed by their revered and dear teacher Miss Chris. As she knelt with a mock up of basin, cloth and water (shoe shine kit and brush) and proceeded to wash their feet (shine their shoes), they looked perplexed and a little uncomfortable. Some giggled, “It tickles!” But as she lovingly served them, her message was clear: “Jesus is the King, but he is also the greatest servant of all. I am offering to wash your feet in a way that is similar to His offer of Himself on the cross to cleanse us of our sins.”
How easy it is to focus on ourselves! But in the shadow of the devotional posture of Jesus and how it warms our hearts, let us not forget that it was no burden for our King to take on the lowliest of tasks for us. He became the expendable so that we would be saved and made new. And as it was a task that we cannot even provide for ourselves, let us devote ourselves to Him who performed it for us, for only in Him can we be washed and cleansed of our guilt and made presentable for service to God and others.
“It is not humility, but unbelief, to put away the offers of the gospel, as if too rich to be made to us, or too good news to be true.” (Matthew Henry)
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