It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 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.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. –John 13:1-15
Just a few days after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the humble king coming to save his people, things were starting to move quickly. The crowds were starting to figure out that Jesus wasn’t the kind of king they had thought he was. The Pharisees had hatched a plot to get rid of Jesus, once and for all. They had convinced one of his friends, Judas, to betray Jesus. Everything was about to go down.
And Jesus knew all of this. It was all part of the plan, ever since before the beginning of time. This was the whole reason he had come: to die on the cross. But before that awful day, Jesus wanted one last dinner with his friends. He had important things to tell them, and even more important things to show them.
During dinner, Jesus got up from the table and took off his nice clothes. He tied a servant’s apron around his waist, got a bowl of water and a towel, and got down on his knees and began to wash his friends’ feet.
Now, there’s something very important you have to know here. Today, we wear shoes and drive cars and spend more time inside, so our feet aren’t usually that dirty (although maybe some of your feet smell). But back in Jesus’ day, people wore sandals and walked around outside on dirt roads, where donkeys and horses and chickens were pooping. By the end of the day, their feet would be really gross—way more disgusting even than your feet after you’ve been running around outside. And so rich people would often have a slave whose job it was to wash their feet. It was such a dirty, smelly, embarrassing job that only the lowest slave would even think about doing it.
But here was Jesus, the King of all kings, God’s own Son, with a servant’s apron around his waist, doing the dirty job of a slave. Jesus’ friends were shocked. Peter—big-hearted, small-brained Peter—was offended. “Heck no, Jesus!” he said angrily. “There’s no way I’m going to let you do this.” In Peter’s mind, the King of kings should never do something this lowly.
But Jesus had an important lesson to teach them. “Do you understand what I’ve just done for you?” he asked his confused friends. “You call me Lord and Teacher and King… and you’re right, that’s exactly who I am. But this is the kind of King I am. I didn’t come to be served, I came to serve, and to give my life away for you.”
Jesus had come to do something way harder than clean feet; he came to clean hearts. And that was going to be ever messier job. That was going to take even more humility than being a servant; that was going to mean Jesus humbling himself all the way to death… death on a cross.