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A Theology of Foot-Washing

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 around 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 around him. John 13:3-5

Today is called Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar. “Maundy Thursday, also called Holy Thursday or Sheer Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, observed in commemoration of Jesus Christ’s institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper.” It is also the day Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. This day is commemorated throughout Christendom with a communion service that is highlighted by a foot-washing ceremony.

John 13 provides the theological basis for foot washing in the Church. The passage highlights two key points about foot-washing. First, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples from a position of authority and power. Verse 3 says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power.” Those who wash the feet of others do so because they are empowered by God and their spirits have been anointed by the Holy Spirit to reflect the love of God to others in the humblest manner. It demonstrates the authority the person has over the desire for self-aggrandizement.

Second, foot-washing reflects our identity as servants of God and joint-heirs of the Kingdom of God. Jesus washed the feet of the disciple because He “had come from God and was returning to God.” Jesus knew who He was, whom He was, and where He was returning. He had no problem abasing Himself out of love to teach His disciples what it meant to have a servant’s heart. The reason we washed the feet of others is not to demonstrate our humility. It is to reflect our identity as servants of God who are preparing to return to God.

As humbling as washing the feet of others was in biblical times, Jesus did it to teach the disciples and all who would follow Him that we should affirm the dignity of every human being by abasing ourselves when necessary so people can experience the love of God through us. We are all redeemed sinners in the sight of God. We may have different kingdom assignments, but that does not mean anyone is more deserving of God’s grace and mercy, or more important to God.

Washing the feet of others is about letting the world know we prioritize heavenly acclaim over earthly prestige. It is a sacred act that should not be done for notoriety. We do not wash the feet of others to show our godliness or religiosity. We do it to help consecrate others for a right relationship with God.

In biblical times the feet were considered one of the dirtiest organs of the body because it was exposed to dirt and grime since people had to walk to get around and everyone wore some type of sandals. Foot-washing was assigned to slaves and reflected the hospitality of the host to a guest. By washing the feet of His disciples Jesus redeemed that cultural tradition and showed that only those who have abased themselves on earth for the sake of God will be elevated in the kingdom of God.

Foot-washing is but one of the many ways one can abase oneself in the sight of God. The passage says Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist, rolled up His sleeves, so to speak, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Sometimes we must roll up our sleeves and just do God’s kingdom work no matter how humbling that work may be. Jesus did not allow the disciples to keep Him from washing their feet. Depending on the circumstance, other people’s shame may prevent them from allowing us to serve them. Yet, if we have been convicted by God to do something for that individual, we should do it, nonetheless.

Questions for Personal Reflection

How is the Holy Spirit asking you to abase yourself in the presence of God?

Why do you think Jesus insisted on washing the feet of His disciples?

Prayer- Blessed Lord, I thank you for the lessons, Jesus taught me by washing the feet of His disciples. Please help me to be more concerned about heavenly prestige than earthly prestige. May I be willing to abase me in my service to my brothers and sisters to the glory of your name!

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