Jesus' act of washing the disciples' feet in John 13:5 teaches us about humility, service, and breaking down barriers of pride.
John 13:5 — Foot Washing - 1 — Aneel Aranha
Hello and welcome to the Bite-Sized Gospel. Today we will reflect on yet another single verse John 13:5. Listen.
After [he had taken off his outer garments, Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Let us understand the practice of foot washing to realize how shocking this would have been to the disciples when Jesus dropped to his knees before them.
In ancient Jewish culture, traveling was often done on foot, and the roads were dusty. It was common for a host to offer water for guests to wash their feet upon entering a home. This was not only a courtesy but a mark of respect and hospitality.
It was also because of the seating style prevalent at the time. In ancient Jewish culture, and more broadly in the Near East, the typical arrangement for eating was not sitting upright at tables, as is common today, but reclining on couches or cushions.
In this reclining position, people's feet would be near the table and consequently near other guests. Given that walking was primarily done in sandals on dusty roads, feet would often be dirty. Washing feet before reclining at a meal was therefore also a matter of cleanliness.
The task of washing a guest's feet was usually assigned to the servants of the house. It was seen as one of the lowliest services one could perform. This was due to the fact that feet were considered the dirtiest part of the body, as they were constantly in contact with the ground and all its impurities.
As this was a private gathering, there were no servants to greet Jesus and the apostles at the place they were going eat. One imagines them looking at one another, a little discomfited at the thought of entering a house with dirty feet, and worse, reclining on couches, but none of them thought of taking on the role of a servant! It would have been too humiliating!
Therefore, it would have shocked them senseless when Jesus, their Rabbi and Teacher, dropped to his knees to wash their feet. By this act, Jesus was teaching them an invaluable lesson, one that extends far beyond the cultural context of their time. Jesus was turning societal norms upside down, showing that true leadership is about serving others, not asserting power or dominance.
Furthermore, Jesus' actions break down barriers of pride and ego. He challenges each of us to question our own willingness to serve in the humblest of ways. Are we willing to take on tasks that might seem beneath us or to serve those who may not be able to repay us?
God bless you as you ponder on this powerful lesson from the Gospel.