Jesus’ Humble Physical Touch: An Inspiration for All of Us

A special touch in the Word of God is Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples.

We have trouble relating to this story [John 13] because we live in a different time and in a different context than the days of Jesus.

We have to imagine lower standards of cleanliness, we have to imagine dusty Palestinian roads, and we have to imagine every person in Jesus’ day shod in sandals.

We also have to imagine Middle Eastern hospitality.  That part of the world is well-known for the courtesy extended to visitors; food, drink, water for cleaning, yes even water for washing the feet.  Even Jesus says in John 13: 10 in response to Simon Peter “A person needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.”

Nevertheless foot washing by another was considered the lowliest task that was ever done and it was probably done by a Hebrew slave in Jesus’ day.

Today we don’t have examples of touch that are comparable.  Occupational touch would be the closest to this, and that type of touch is something that we usually pay for—a haircut, a message, or a dental cleaning.

Certainly we don’t have anything comparable that we would offer to a guest who comes into our home.

Today a foot washing element as part of a worship service is very meaningful and let’s take a few moments to explore the meaning.  What was Jesus telling his Disciples and us as readers of the Bible as he performed this task?

What does this special physical touch mean?

Many see it as a symbolic act of the death of Christ that was to soon follow.  The cleansing of the feet is a preparation for the death of Christ.  The Disciples had to be cleaned in order to take up their role after Jesus was gone.  That would make the foot washing a type of baptism.

Others see the foot washing as a selfless act of service.  Jesus was doing the work of a slave with little consideration of his own status.  He wanted to inspire the Disciples to have that same attitude toward serving others.  Indeed Simon Peter had a problem with Jesus washing his feet, but Jesus prevailed and we presume that Simon Peter got the message.

My favorite view of the story is that Jesus was performing a humble, loving task.  I have always preferred to think that Jesus was trying to communicate that he loved his Disciples and performing this lowly task was a powerful way to communicate that.   Jesus was about to lay down his life for all of us and he wanted the Disciples to know how much he cared for them and all of us.

Let’s consider foot washing today.  Some people wear sandals in the summer but many never do.  We enclose our feet in leather or some other material and this causes sweating and even damage to the feet.   Many of us try to cram too much foot in a too small shoe.  The effects can be very disastrous.

What if it was required that you washed the feet of your house guests?  Could you handle the task?

Could you humble yourself?

I am going to reference the “Got” website* because this site expresses what I get from this example of physical touch so well:

“When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them (and us), ‘I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you’ (John 13:15).   As His followers, we are to emulate Him, serving one another in lowliness of heart and mind, seeking to build one another up in humility and love. When we seek the preeminence, we displease the Lord who promised that true greatness in His kingdom is attained by those with a servant’s heart (Mark 9:35; 10:44).   When we have that servant’s heart, the Lord promised, we will be greatly blessed (John 13:17).

“Got” is a popular Bible question website.

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