Before we begin to unpack the implications found in the scripture passage, let me set the scene for you.
It was customary that the lowest servant of the house would wash the feet of the guests as they came into the house, especially for formal meals like this. We’re not sure why, but for some reason, there was no one available to wash the disciples feet as they came in.
This would have been a formal meal around a common U-shaped table called a “triclinium.” The disciples would have been reclining on mats at the table. The table was so low to the ground, the disciples wouldn’t have sat on chairs, in fact, if they were sitting in chairs, it wouldn’t have been a big deal if their feet were dirty. But instead, they reclined at the table, which meant that dirty feet would have made the meal pretty awkward and uncomfortable.
As I read this passage one of the questions I have is, “why didn’t the disciples wash each other’s feet?” In fact, why didn’t they take the initiative and wash Jesus’ feet?
Maybe the conversation they had during the meal can educate us on the reason this didn’t happen.
Before we look at that conversation and Jesus’ response, you have to remember in the disciple’s minds; Jesus was still speaking in code about going away and establishing his kingdom.
So Luke 22 reveals the conversation and makes sense why they didn’t serve each other.
Jesus taught the disciples some radical concepts while he was with them, but this one was as a radical as they get. But the beautiful picture is Jesus didn’t just teach His disciples how to be servants; He showed them how to be servants.
John 13:4-5 (NLT) So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
If Jesus wanted just to display the “image” of a servant, he would have had a servant or even of the disciples do all the prep work. He would have quickly wiped a damp cloth on a couple of dirty feet and consider the job done. That would have given the “image” of servanthood and loving leadership, but Jesus gave himself completely to the work of getting everything setup and prepared to wash the disciples feet.
Jesus washing the disciples feet was a powerful moment and experience for the disciples. In fact, the foot washing was so shocking; Peter initially refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet at all. But again, Jesus wasn’t just teaching them a lesson; He was showing them the lesson. He showed it in a way that illustrated what His life was all about.
Not only was the foot washing a powerful lesson; it was a powerful parable: Think about the connection between heaven and earth at this moment:
- Jesus got up from his earthly table, a place of comfort and rest
- Jesus got up from his throne in heaven, a place of comfort and rest
- Jesus took off his earthly robe, removing his outer covering
- Jesus laid aside His glory, taking off his heavenly covering
- Jesus took an earthly towel and wrapped it around his waist ready to work
- Jesus took the very form of a servant and stepped down from heaven ready to work
- Jesus poured water into an earthly basin, ready to clean
- Jesus poured out his blood to cleans us of our sin
- Jesus after washing their feet sat down
- Jesus sat down at the right hand of the father after cleansing us on the cross.
Servant leadership can’t be just something we say, it has to become something we do or even someone we are. We have a model for us in the person of Jesus Christ. I challenge you today to get up, take the towel of the servant, wrap it around your waist, and start washing feet.