52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #24. Let God Wash Your Feet.
by Travis Bookout
How to See God:
As we noted in Reflection #23, the Gospel of John teaches an Incarnation Christology, meaning that Jesus existed as God prior to becoming human flesh. The Logos was with God and was God and created all things with God. So anything you see Jesus doing is teaching you about God. One of the problems we sometimes run into is that we have concepts of who God is and we try to fit Jesus into those concepts. I think a better approach, is to forget everything you thought you knew about God. Then look at Jesus. Learn God from Jesus and fit everything else into that.
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).
This passage is saying that we haven’t seen God, so if you want to get to know Him, if you want to see Him, look at Jesus. He has “explained”, or literally exegeted Him. This is why, when Philip tells Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it is enough.” Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me…Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” (John 14:8-11). Or, consider the unfathomable claim, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).
If your view of God is inconsistent with the life and teachings of Jesus, then change your view of God. If you read passages that depict God differently than Jesus, then change the way you read those passages. A remarkable aspect of early Christianity is that Jesus entirely changed the way the church viewed God and the way they read the Old Testament. Paul says Christians can now read with “unveiled faces” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). Luke says that Jesus opened His disciples’ minds to “understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45, 27). John, after Jesus cleansed the temple and quoted Psalm 69:9, says it wasn’t until after the resurrection that “His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).
So when you see Jesus doing something, you’re learning about God. You’re watching God. When Jesus washes feet, you’re learning that God washes feet.
Why Wash Feet?
In 1st century Palestine foot-washing had a very practical and beneficial purpose. In fact, it still does in many parts of the world. It’s both an ancient and modern blessing. All the way back in Genesis 18, Abraham had 3 visitors (one of whom is the Lord) and made sure they got rest, food, and foot-washings (Genesis 18:4-5). Walking on old dusty roads in worn-down sandals, unable to hop in a car, sit in a cushioned seat, or wear cotton socks and Sonoma shoes (that’s my brand!), there was little more pleasurable or comforting than to arrive at your destination, have a young female servant come over, remove your sandals, take a bowl of clean water and a towel, and rub your feet clean.
Why wash feet? Because it was a kindness of real practical value. What about today? It can still be a kindness of real and practical value. But it is also a very powerful symbol. A symbol that reinforces the mindset of servitude that we are to have towards one another. When the Pope washes feet at a juvenile detention center outside of Rome, it illustrates something important. In the same way that a sermon (hopefully) encourages you to take a message and go apply it, foot-washing can be a call to go out and find ways to serve.
But when reading the passage, there are two very important reasons that stand out as to why Jesus did this. The whole passage begins by saying “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus washed His disciples feet, quite simply, because He loved them. We know He loved “the beloved disciple.” But He also loved Thomas, and Andrew, and Philip. He loved Peter who this same chapter He predicts will deny Him (John 13:38). He loved Judas who, as we will observe in more depth in the next reflection, would get up immediately following the foot-washing and betray Him. Jesus loved them, every unworthy one of them, and served them.
The second reason is stated right after the foot-washing, when Jesus is explaining Himself. “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15). The disciples are going to have some important roles in the church. People will know them. They will have authority and respect. They need to remember what it is all about. Ministry is not, ever, about becoming famous, getting praise, or feeling important. It is about foot-washing. It is about kindness and service and following the example of Jesus.
Let God Wash Your Feet:
Putting all of this together, remember that seeing Jesus is how we see God. Jesus’ love led Him to humbly take on the role of a servant, usually a low ranking servant, usually a female servant, and benevolently wash the feet of His disciples. That’s the kind of God who loves us. That’s the kind of God we serve. As we imitate Jesus, and follow His example, we’re showing that God to the world.
When Jesus started to wash Peter’s feet, Peter protested, “Never shall You wash My feet!” (John 13:8). Peter had a social hierarchical structure in mind. The Lord shall never be a servant to me! This may have been humility on Peter’s part. But it was misguided. So often we want to reject an offer of kindness. We feel uncomfortable. Unworthy. But that’s the wrong response. Accept people’s kindness, and then give it to others. Instead of rejecting or negating kindness, multiply it! Accept the love of God given to you, and give it to others also! Let God wash your feet, then go wash somebody else’s.