A Prayer of Jesus
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.

 

DIRTY FEET

By Edgar Jones


As a kid I ran bare footed in the summertime and for much of the spring and fall. Anytime, in fact, when the weather was not too cold. I loved it. After a spring rain there was something immensely satisfying in wading through muddy places that had been pulverized dust before the shower, squishing the mud between my toes and swishing it off in the puddles of water that accumulated in the dirt roads, yards, and fields. Bare feet was standard uniform for poor rural children in those depression years when money for shoes was hard to come by. The shoes were worn in summer only to go to church, to school, or to town. In the fall, with the onset of cold weather, I put them on reluctantly. In the early spring I looked eagerly to the first day warm enough to pull them off. There were, of course, a few hazards to be avoided broken glass and nails could mean disaster. My worst injury came from a nail. It was sticking straight up from a board, and I, unseeing, placed a running foot squarely on it with painful results. I still remember seeing the blue spot that was the tip of the nail just below the skin on the top of my foot. And Dad giving the board a sudden, painful tug to remove it and the nail, from my foot. There was no trip to the doctor (no money), and we worried for weeks about "lockjaw," which sometimes resulted from such injuries. There were no tetanus shots anyway, so what was the doctor to do?

Working in the fields with a hoe, chopping cotton bare footed, also presented certain hazards that to the best of my memory I was able to avoid. The first few days after removing the shoes required special care due to tender feet, but the soles of my feet soon toughened and I walked with no discomfort and little concern for injury.

Another thing: every night I had to wash my feet. No getting in bed with dirty feet! There was a bench on the screened back porch where we kept the water bucket and the basins in which we washed. So, before retiring, my routine was to go out back in the dark and relieve myself on the ground. Then I would come in and, using the same dipper from which we all drank, transfer water from the bucket to a basin. Then I would seat myself on the bench and, placing the basin on the floor, proceed to wash my feet and dry them on the towel hanging on a nail in the wall and placed there for just that purpose. Feet clean and feeling cool and comfortable, I went in to bed. Oh, I almost forgot. In the barnyard I was usually careful to avoid the cow paddies. If I was careless and stepped in one, somehow it was not the same as the mud!
 
 

First Century Palestine

In many ways, West Tennessee farms in the 1920's and 30's were not, culturally, so far removed from First Century Palestine where poor people, children and adults, customarily went barefooted. Even the well-to-do wore only sandals, a tough leather sole bound to the foot with thongs. And when they traveled from house to house, or from town to town, they walked on unpaved pathways that, in that dry clime, could become very dusty and tiresome to exposed feet. We can glean some insight into their customs by referring to the instructions Jesus gave the twelve when he sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal:
Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. . . . And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. (Matthew 10:9-14).
There is a problem with this language when we compare it with the parallel passages in Mark and Luke. Mark specifies that they are to wear sandals but Luke does not mention sandals. However, we can clear this up when we go to the description of the Last Supper :
When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything? (Luke 22:35).
So I think it is safe to conclude that they were sent out barefooted on their mission, with no money (no purse), no bag (for additional clothing), no sandals and one tunic. There was also the expedition of the Seventy on a similar mission reported only in Luke. He gave similar instructions to them, saying specifically, Carry no bag, no purse, no sandals. . .. He would probably not have sent them out so specifically bare footed unless that was a custom for poor persons. They would, in their journeys, have met many bare footed persons on the pathways of Palestine, as well as many sandaled feet. I can vouch, from first hand experience, that it is a practical mode of transportation for poor people in warm climes in any age.

Not much imagination is required to conceive a custom for such a culture where the weather was warm, bare feet were common, and walking was the customary mode of travel. Suppose you were native to such a country, and had traveled many weary miles to visit a friend in an adjoining city. What is one of the most hospitable things a host could do for you on your arrival? You guessed it provide water for the washing of the tired, dusty feet.

The Oaks of Mamre

There is no better picture of this practice than that found in the Book of Genesis, when the Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, "as he sat by the door of his tent in the heat of the day." Actually, it was three men who appeared, and Abraham ran from the tent door to meet them, bowed, and said, "My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on . . . " (Genesis 18:1-5). So it was expected, in First Century Palestine as in the Second Millennium BC, that a gracious host would provide not only for refreshment but also for washing his guest's feet.
 
 

Simon the Pharisee

Consequently, when Jesus visited Simon the Pharisee and a woman of the city, who was a sinner, brought an alabaster flask of ointment and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, began to wet his feet with her tears and wipe them with the hair of her head, kiss his feet, and anoint them with ointment, it was not an outlandish event. The Pharisee, very proud, thought to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." Then Jesus, reading his mind, said to him:
Simon, . . . A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more? Simon answered, The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more. And he said to him, You have judged rightly. Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. (Luke 7:40-45).
Simon had obviously looked upon Jesus in a demeaning way, not bothering to be the gracious host for this Galilean holy man whom, no doubt, he had invited into his house out of curiosity. He had not even provided water to wash his bare feet! I conclude, therefore, that providing water for the washing of feet was the custom for a gracious host, out of concern for the discomfort resulting from the pedestrian journey of the guest.

The accounts of women anointing Jesus in all four gospels are a little puzzling. The event described above occurred in Galilee if we can depend upon Luke, who is the only one to record it. There was a second, similar event described in Matthew (26:6f) and Mark (14:3f) only, which raises the question as to whether Luke may have been mistaken in the setting of his account. The details are so very different, however, that I conclude there must have been two separate events.

Simon the Leper

The second occurred during passion week in Bethany where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. It was a short walk from Jerusalem. Here the host was also a man by the name of Simon (a coincidence?), but this one was specified as "Simon the leper" whereas the Galilean host described by Luke was "Simon the Pharisee." Some major differences in the two events are (1) in Galilee, the ointment was used to anoint his feet; in Bethany, it was poured over his head; (2) In Galilee, the host, Simon the Pharisee, belittled Jesus and the woman; in Bethany, the disciples complained about the waste of the precious ointment; (3) in Galilee, the woman is identified as "a woman of the city who was a sinner;" in Bethany, she is not identified by either Matthew or Mark; (4) in Galilee, the story includes a parable about love and forgiveness, and concludes with the forgiveness of the sins of the woman; in Bethany, the story concludes with high praise for the woman and the promise that what she has done will be told in memory of her wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world; most significant, (5) in Galilee, the woman washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair; in Bethany, there is no mention of feet whatever!. All these differences, including the difference in the time and geographic location, is enough to convince me that these were definitely two separate events.
 
 

Mary of Bethany

Now the Fourth Gospel further complicates the situation. In the opening of Chapter 11, we read, "Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill." (John 11:1,2) This is curious, because to this point the Beloved Disciple has not mentioned any such incident. Either he is referring to the event in the house of Simon the Pharisee, recorded by Luke, or else he is looking forward to yet another event that he does not describe until we come to Chapter 12. This one was in Bethany, as in the case of the event in the house of Simon the Leper, but it was six days before the Passover according to John. But the event in the house of Simon the Leper was but two days before the Passover, according to Mark, and the woman was specifically identified as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The exact location of the event is not described, but the implication is that it was in the house of Lazarus, perhaps also of Mary and Martha, who served a meal, and Lazarus was present at table with Jesus. Here, it is Mary who does the anointing and, as in Galilee, she anoints his feet with the ointment and wipes them with her hair.

I tend to believe that the event described in John 11:1, 2 was the Galilee event. Against this view is the fact that the woman there was described as being a woman of the city who was a sinner, whereas we tend to think of Mary and Martha as having their homes in Bethany, far away from Galilee. However, it is not impossible that Mary's home was in Galilee, whereas her Brother lived in Bethany, in Judea. Or, it is possible that Luke was mistaken in identifying her as "a woman of the city." Immediately after describing the Galilee event, Luke tells us that "Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities; Mary, called Magdalene, from who seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means." I read the "and many others" shown italicized, and wonder if Mary was not among them. This affords us an opportunity for commenting on what seems to be a general practice with the authors of the synoptic gospels: they suppress everything relating to the family of Lazarus, including the account of his miraculous resurrection. He is described as the Beloved Disciple only in the Fourth Gospel. In keeping with this practice, Luke, whose information stemmed from the twelve, would not have identified Mary as the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with her tears in the house of Simon the Pharisee, or listed her specifically in the names shown above. She and her sister and brother were resented by the twelve, who did everything they could to eliminate them from the record.
 
 

A Menial Task

One thing more we should establish at this point is that the task of washing the feet of a guest was a menial one. If there were no servants in the household, the host was expected merely to supply a basin and water for the washing, but the guest washed his own feet. However, if there were servants, or slaves as was often the case, it was the chore of the servant or slave to provide a basin of water, and a towel, and stoop to wash and dry the feet of the guest. The menial nature of this chore, or any chore involving the feet of a guest, was such that the host was not expected by the guest to do the washing for him.

When John the Baptist sought a metaphor to emphasize his sense of humility before the Lord's anointed one, he expressed it by saying: "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Luke 3:16). So, therefore, the stooping to wash the feet of another, like stooping to untie the thong of the sandals before washing, was a task for menials, for the most humble person, a slave. This carries with it, of course, the comparison of the individuals involved: the slave doing the washing was lowly as compared with the one whose feet was being washed. So John the Baptist considered Jesus to be so exalted that he, comparatively speaking, was not even worthy to stoop to untie the thong of his sandals, (or to wash his feet).

To summarize this talk about dirty feet, and the anointing and washing of them, we have established that it was the custom in First Century Palestine for a gracious host to provide water that a guest might wash his feet, which would be dirty and uncomfortable after his journey. Furthermore, if there were servants or slaves in the house, one of them would have the task of doing the washing. Unless, of course, the host considered the guest to be no better than a slave, in which case he need not be gracious, as Simon the Pharisee failed to provide water for the feet of Jesus.
 
 

Feet Washing at the Last Supper

I have said all this in preparation for a discussion of the event uniquely reported by the Beloved Disciple, author of the Fourth Gospel, in which Jesus at the Last Supper washed the feet of his disciples. When we pause to realize that the synoptics were produced by information stemming from the Apostles, who were present at the Supper, we can understand why they failed to report this incident. They were ashamed to report that their Lord had stooped to wash their feet. Doubtless they were saying among themselves, "How could we have let him do that?" And, if we accept that Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, was the Beloved Disciple who wrote the Fourth Gospel, we can understand why he, who was also present at the Last Supper, was careful to include it. It was his sister, Mary, who had washed the Lord's feet with her tears and dried them with her hair in the house of Simon the Pharisee! Or, he was looking forward to the event to follow, in which Mary is identified as definitely the one who anointed the Lord's feet and wiped them with her hair. So, this matter of feet washing was a matter of intense family interest for the Beloved Disciple, and he did not like what seems to be the fact, that the twelve had sought to eliminate his family from the record.

Before turning to the feet washing at the Last Supper, we need also to detail something about the character of the twelve disciples at this point in their lives. It was not good. They were a bunch of zealots (not necessarily of the Zealot Party) who followed Jesus on the basis of their expectation that he was the Messiah who would restore the kingdom of David to its former glory, and they expected that, as his closest companions, they would be given places of high rank and honor in that kingdom. They were to be the kings chief ministers. Jesus had as much as told them so according to their interpretation of the coming kingdom as being a world power.

In the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28).
This wasn't enough for them, for they each wanted the chief places at his right hand and his left. The mother of James and John came to him specifically requesting these positions for her sons, and the other disciples were incensed that the sons of Zebedee would send their mother to intercede for them. (Matthew 20:20-28). The Mark gospel tells us that it was James and John themselves who made this request. (Mark 10:35-45). Luke also reports that an argument arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 9:46). They carried this same argument with them into the upper room for the Last supper, as Luke also recounts. (Luke 22:24).

It was with men so minded, then, that Jesus entered into the Last Supper. It would seem that all his teaching about the merits of humility, how it is that he who exalts himself shall be humbled, were of no avail. So it was at the Last Supper that the Beloved Disciple describes how Jesus dealt with them, seeking one last time to impress on them the folly of exalting themselves. "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded." (John 13:3-5). What an astonishing thing! The upper room had been prepared for this event by certain disciples, but they were remiss in fulfilling their task. There was no servant to wash their feet, and no host to provide the water. So Jesus himself made up for the lack, and there the Lord of Creation stooped to wash the feet of Galilean fishermen and other men of humble rank.

"He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet!" Then Jesus answered, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." Peter then said, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean." When he had washed their feet and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anther's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."

Was this simply a lesson in humility as most Protestants have said? Or was it this and more, the institution of an ordinance for perpetual observance in the church, as the Dunkers, "Feet washing Baptists," and Catholics have asserted and practice in their congregations? Did Jesus intend to establish an ordinance for perpetual observation by the church through the ages? These are questions that have no ready answers. Looking at the story as listed above, one might draw an affirmative conclusion to any of them. But we ought to acknowledge a few simple facts before proceeding to seek a more secure answer. First, this is the only place in the gospels where this event has mention. None of the synoptics record it or make mention of it as one would expect them to do if they had understood from the original sources, the twelve apostles, that Jesus intended this to be the establishment of an ordinance in perpetuity. Jesus himself omitted it from any of his other teachings. Second, in all we know of the early Christians during the time of the Apostles, from all available sources, there is no hint of this being observed among them as an ordinance of the Lord. The Acts is silent. The epistles of Paul make no mention of it in the early churches. None of the other New Testament epistles have even a hint. We would know absolutely nothing about it, and so no church today would be practicing "feet washing" if the Beloved Disciple had not described the event. These facts, of course, are not conclusive. How many times does a practice need to be mentioned in scripture to be considered as authorized by the Lord for continual observance? Once is certainly enough if it is clearly defined and set forth, and there are no contradictions or prohibitions elsewhere. And certainly there is no prohibition of this practice in the New Testament; furthermore it is thoroughly consistent with all the Lord's utterances on pride and humility, forcing each individual who practices it to place himself in the most humble of positions that of a slave or lowly servant assigned the task of washing feet!

But didn't Jesus command it? He said plainly, "If I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anther's feet." Well, that isn't exactly a commandment. It is a conditional counsel or a recommendation, or something of that sort. As a commandment, it should read something like: "From henceforth, you are to do as I have done to you; when you meet together, as I have washed your feet, you must also wash one anther's feet and you must continue doing it until the close of the age." Furthermore, since it is based on a condition, is it not implicit that only those whose feet were actually washed by Jesus himself should consider it authorization for the initiation of a new practice? Jesus has never washed my feet; therefore I am not expected to wash your feet.

Becoming a Contemporary

We could go on speculating after this fashion indefinitely without being very convincing. So let's quit the speculation and try something else: becoming contemporary with Jesus in a Kierkegaardian fashion. I know from experience with other questions that this is a fruitful technique. By this I intend that we enter into an exercise of the imagination, according to which we attempt to place ourselves in the company of the Apostles and other disciples who gathered with Jesus in the upper room on the eve of his crucifixion. We will need to apply an informed imagination by drawing on all the facts we have about the circumstances of life in first century Palestine during Jesus' last days on earth. Why don't we be very specific and place ourselves in the places of James and John, those sons of Zebedee who entered the hall that evening quarreling about which of them was to be the greatest in the coming kingdom? They were the very ones who went privately to Jesus and asked for the chief places at his right and left hand, and who also then sent their mother to make the same intercession for them. Now, all of them, James and John included, knew that something big was up. They were universally convinced that the man they had been following about over the country for the past couple of years or so was none other than the Christ of God, the Messiah promised by the prophets, who was come to restore the lost Glory of David to the nation of Israel. And, as his closest associates, they fully expected to have high positions in his government. Jesus had very recently made a triumphal entry into the city, howbeit on a donkey but then, he was a very strange fellow, to be sure. Nevertheless, he is about to restore the kingdom we are sure of it! Our time of Glory is upon us! However, right now, things are a little uncomfortable. Lazarus has brought in a jar of water, leading us to the place where we are now to eat the Passover, and we were responsible for the provisions, but somehow we failed to provide for a servant to come in and wash our feet. (The sad fact is that every man in the room has dirty, uncomfortable feet.) This is surely not at all fitting for men who will be cabinet ministers tomorrow, who are about to sit down for a banquet with the King of Israel! Oh well, we will just suffer through it. I am sure not going to do it . . . tomorrow I may be the Prime Minister! But, what about his feet? No, he wouldn't expect cabinet ministers to stoop low enough to wash even the feet of the king. Darn it! Why didn't we think to hire a servant for the evening?

What's that you say, Brother Peter? You are suggesting that I wash your feet? Well just who do you think you are? You are certainly not to be the king, and I and my brother have already put in for the chief places at the right and left hand of the Lord when he comes to power. If any of us is to wash feet, perhaps it should be you. The Lord called you "Satan" the other day, so you must be pretty low in this group!

Now what! Why is the Lord taking off his tunic and wrapping himself with a towel? What do you make of it Thomas? Look! He is filling a basin with water from the jar brought in by Lazarus. Now he is going to . . . I can't believe my eyes! He is washing Judas' feet! Someone stop him! This is entirely improper. Ah! Peter is not going to permit it. I know I could not permit the Messiah to wash my feet. Now what is this? What did he say to Peter, Andrew? "If I do not wash your feet, you have no part in me." And now Peter has yielded and he is washing his feet! Why is it that everyone is giving in to this? It is my turn next. What must I do? Well, I guess I have no choice but to yield, just as Peter and the others have done. One thing I know for sure, I will never breath a word of this outside this room. Who in Israel will follow a Messiah who washes his servants feet? This certainly is no way to establish a kingdom! Ah, he has finished and is about to speak:

Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anther's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17). Already, my dear reader, you see that things are not turning out as the Twelve expected. Not only so, but the Lord has demeaned himself before the eyes of those who would exalt themselves and they are highly offended, even very disappointed that their Lord and Teacher should stoop to such a menial chore. And something more we see is that none of them know anything about a Christian Church. They are a bunch of patriotic Jews seeking the forefront of a movement to expel the Romans and restore the throne of David, who have entered into this celebration of the Passover feast expecting the Lord to explain his plan of action. Instead, he has washed their feet before the meal. Then he has given them this very improper teaching to the effect that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, but among them the one who is great must be the slave of all. The one thing that made sense was the instruction to provide swords. They had expected to fight the Chief Priests private army, as well as the Romans.
 
 

The Subsequent Events

If we will just follow the disciples through the subsequent events of that night and the next day, it will be no mystery that all of them fled. Jesus did not permit them to use their swords; he submitted himself readily to the Chief Priest and the Romans, and made no attempt to prevent their executing him. It seemed to be entirely in line with his plan of action! How could anyone remain committed to such strange behavior? The Messiah most certainly would not accept such abuse!

All of his words about lowliness and humility were of no avail. With those disciples, they went in one ear and out the other. They were chomping at the bit to be exalted to the throne of David's royal glory, each hoping to be master of all the others. Jesus knew that he must really shake them up if they were ever to entertain the truth, that exaltation to Glory came after humility on earth and not without it. He was not only submitting himself to a gross humiliation by washing their feet, but he was about to submit himself to the extreme humiliation of the cross to die with criminals and insurrectionists. He is indeed the Christ, he did indeed restore the kingdom as the prophets had promised, but it is a kingdom not of this world, of submission rather than violence, and that made all the difference. In this kingdom, one rules in abject humiliation in order that one might be exalted to eternal heavenly Glory. The Glory belongs only to eternity; here on earth and in time it manifests itself as the very opposite the abject debasement of a king who washes feet and submits to crucifixion!

The Critical Influence of the Resurrection

The Resurrection, and only the Resurrection, could have turned these men around. Had we truly been there among them this would have lifted us out of the bitter disappointment of the Passover and crucifixion. But just seeing him alive, exciting as that was, did not have its immediate effect. The first question out of their mouths was, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" But now they had something to think about, something to grab their attention and claim their devotion. It would take the Holy Spirit to lead them into all the Truth, but they would follow. And they would know that Christ is Lord, seated at the right hand of the Father and holding all authority in heaven and on earth. And as Apostles, they are now indeed his cabinet ministers, ruling in eternity over the twelve tribes of Israel. And I think also that whenever James or John entered the house of Simon Peter, he greeted them warmly then rushed to do as the Lord had urged, that is, to follow his example by bringing a basin of water and washing the dirty feet of his friends. I am quite sure they all did it, according to the custom of the day. They differed from their neighbors only in this one thing, in not having a servant perform the menial chore, but in doing it themselves for one another as a part of everyday life. And Peter would someday write to fellow disciples: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you." (I Peter 5:6).
 
 

Back to the Question

Now, back to our question: did Jesus establish an ordinance for perpetual observation in the church? My answer must be, "No." There was no Christian Church in the upper room. There was a gathering of Jews with their Messiah to observe the Jewish Passover, and Jesus saw that the ambitions of his followers must be redirected if his Word was to be perpetuated in the world. It was to this end that he, on that one occasion, washed their feet and told them that they should do the same using a custom of the times, as needed, because their feet were indeed dirty. Had there been no such custom, there would have been no such event; and had their feet not been dirty and in need of washing, there would have been no such event. Therefore, this event must be seen in the light of the facts: there was a custom, and there were dirty feet!
 

The Fact of Need

The fact of need is one of the keys to understanding this event. When Peter said, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head," Jesus response was, "He who has bathed does not need to wash except for his feet, but he is clean all over." Therefore, if their feet had not been dirty and in need of washing, there would have been no washing, just as there was no washing of hands or head. The need created the custom, and the custom became the event taking place in the upper room. It was indeed an extreme lesson in humility, but there was no indication whatsoever that it was to become an authorized religious event in the church, a ritual. There was not even a church! After they had founded a synagogue, having been cast out of the existing ones, a synagogue distinguished by the belief in Jesus as the Messiah, they would have been entirely proper to have washed one another's feet according to custom, exactly as Jesus washed their feet in the upper room, but only because it was the custom, and only because their feet were dirty. They would have done it in their homes in the course of routine visits as well as in their meetings for worship (which were mostly in homes). It was not a religious ritual nor was it intended ever to become such. It was a lesson in humility. And when the times changed, when customs passed away to be replaced with new ones, or in colder climes where such a custom never existed, they did not wash one anther's feet. It was performed according to custom and need, and that was all that was ever intended with only this one difference they performed it for each other rather than having a slave do it or leaving guests to do it for themselves as Abraham had done. Jesus has not commanded us, his followers, to engage in a sacrament or ordinance or religious ritual of feet washing.
He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all
over. . . (John 13:10).

Return to Home Page              E-mail ed@voiceofjesus.org                Return to List of Papers