How to wash feet

Glenn Davies

How do you wash feet? It might seem like a strange question, but really it is one that every disciple of Jesus must answer. In the words of Jesus: "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 should do as I have done to you" (John 13:14-15).

The setting of Jesus' words is the upper room on the night he was betrayed, when to the surprise of his disciples he got up during the meal, removed his outer clothes and began the menial task of washing their feet. This brought a verbal display of protest from Peter, who declared that Jesus would never wash his feet! Yet Jesus gently rebukes Peter, saying, that unless he washed his feet, Peter would have no part in Jesus. Well, that was too much for Peter, for he did not want to risk losing his "part in Jesus". So he boldly invites Jesus to wash him head to toe! Yet that was unnecessary. Why?"”because Peter was already clean: "he who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over." Later that night Jesus explains that the disciples who have believed in him (notably, with the exception of Judas) "are already clean by the word I have spoken to you" (John 15:3).

The footwashing, therefore, has at least two aspects. It is a reminder that though we are forgiven, cleansed by the word of Jesus, we still need our feet washed. In other words, though we are clean all over, our feet still get dirty"”though forgiven, we still sin and need God's forgiveness. For this reason the confession of our sins is still an important part of our meeting together as Christians. The Lord's Prayer makes the same point every time we pray: "forgive us our sins". Yet as the footwashing symbolises cleansing and forgiveness, Jesus is also teaching his disciples that they have an obligation to forgive each other. The footwashing was "an example, that you should do as I have done to you." We are hypocrites if we who receive Jesus' forgiveness, fail to forgive others; if we who have been loved by Jesus, fail to love others. This is Jesus' new commandment: "love one another, as I have loved you" (13:34; Eph 4:32).

So I ask you, as I ask myself: how do you wash feet? To answer that question is to ask, how do I truly express my love and my forgiveness of my fellow Christians? "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17).