Lent Devotion: March 29th
1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
As the crucifixion draws ever nearer, Jesus teaches us that faithfulness is rooted in humility and service, even to those who hurt and betray us. In this passage, the lesson is taught tangibly as Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, including Judas, and verbally, as Jesus tells the disciples to follow his example.
In the church today, foot washing has become a ritual, even a metaphor. It occasionally shows up in our liturgies, and millions watch the pope each year as he famously washes a carefully chosen selection of feet every Maundy Thursday.
However, as the event originally took place, there was nothing ritualistic or metaphorical about it. The disciples’ feet were dirty. These were not the kind of dirty feet that have been covered by shoes all day (in itself an unpleasant concept!); these were the dirty feet of days of walking around with minimally-protected feet on unpaved “streets,” in a place without running water, without sewage services, and with large numbers of animals (and their byproducts). One rarely finds that kind of dirty in today’s world outside of slums in developing countries.
Nonetheless, Jesus took on the role of the lowliest of servants—wrapping himself in a towel and performing one of the most menial and repugnant roles for the disciples whom he loved. And then he clarifies: “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (v. 14).
“You also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
It’s tempting to interpret this as a message directed to the disciples alone, but that’s not the case. Humility and service are essential to the lives of all Christians.
Prayer: Most merciful God, how tempting it is to imagine ourselves too important or too busy to participate in the activities that we consider too menial, especially when we imagine that the people around us are less important. Yet Jesus himself teaches us here that faithfulness demands humility and service—even toward those we might consider our enemies. This is not an easy message. Grant me the courage to follow Jesus’s example. Through your Holy Spirit, open my eyes to those in need of my service and enable me to serve them with grace and generosity as Jesus so clearly commanded. Amen.
Tim TenClay is an RCA pastor, serving the Waldensian churches of Palermo (La Noce), Marsala, and Trapani on the Island of Sicily (Italy). He is the husband of RCA Missionary JJ TenClay and the father of two daughters. Although pastoring three churches keeps him busy, he is an avid (albeit slow) bike rider and an enthusiastic knitter.