Foot washing - Personal Service or Religious Ritual?

Foot washing - Personal Service or Religious Ritual?


At the last supper, the disciples gathered together around the 'table'. In the first century, this was usually low table that they literally reclined to. It would be much like our coffee tables rather than our dining tables. Sitting on the floor this way would mean the placing of feet near each other's heads. In that day the common shoe was a simple sandal that was worn without socks. The roads were mostly dirt and thus after a day of walking your feet would be dirty.


It was simply a common practice of courtesy to wash people's feet when they entered a house, especially if they were gathering to eat. Among servants this task was usually relegated to the least important slave. Such washing was done regardless of one's religious thinking.


The disciples had for some time now had an ongoing debate about which one of them was the greatest. For anyone of them to wash the other's feet at this point was like giving up the argument and admitting one's inferiority. This would never do! Hence, in stubborn pride they would rather eat with each other's dirty feet in their faces than to wash each other's feet.


Jesus, their Lord and Master, washes their feet - all of them. The Son of God washed their feet as they stubbornly refused to provide such courtesy to each other. Interestingly, Jesus asked: "Do you know what I have done?" (vs. 12).  Obviously, he did NOT mean "do you know that I washed your feet." Rather, do you understand the implication of this act?


In case they missed it, he then states the implication for them: "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (vs. 13-15).


Such was not the institution of a religious ritual to be performed. Rather, such was the washing of DIRTY feet. Clean feet, like a clean body, need NOT be so washed (vs. 10). When people bath, put on clean socks and modern shoes, drive to a religious meeting, and then have someone put water on their clean feet, this is not what Jesus did nor is it what Jesus asked his disciples to do.


He demanded of disciples that they would serve one another in the NEEDS that each would have. Peter later would write: "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…" (1 Peter 4:10). Paul would succinctly state: "By love, serve one another" (Gal. 5:13).  Whether it be washing someone's dirty feet, cleaning their dirty house, washing their dirty clothes, or any other need that our fellow disciple is in need of, we are to serve each other by providing such service. Whose feet have you washed lately?


Hugh DeLong




41And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” 1 Samuel 25:41


4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, Genesis 18:4


2and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” Genesis 19:2


32So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. Genesis 24:32


9Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 1 Timothy 5:9–10


Luke 7:36-50 - the woman washed Jesus feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair…