John 13:5 – Then Jesus poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.
Gratitude Day 734
It started with a basin, some water and a towel. These three simple things set the tone for the rest of the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the last night he walked this earth.
It was a Thursday evening; the night Jewish people would remember and celebrate their history. The Passover meal commemorates when Moses lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and back towards the Promised Land. It took awhile for Pharoah to let the Hebrew people go. He wasn’t easily convinced to simply let a significant portion of the people who did all the hard and difficult work for him simply walk away. It was only after the first born of all Egyptian families died that Pharoah told Moses to get his people out of Dodge. And so, they left.
Ever since then, as commanded by God, the Hebrew people remember the events leading up to their release from bondage in Egypt, which was called Passover. Lots of Jewish people travel to Jerusalem during Passover so they can celebrate their heritage. It’s why Jesus and his friends were in town. Like all other Hebrew families, they planned a special Passover meal.
A room had been arranged. A meal secured and prepared. It was time to celebrate and remember.
When guests arrived at someone’s home, they first had their feet washed and cleaned. Because Jewish people walked most everywhere, and the roads were dusty and dirty, Hebrew tradition provided guests to have their feet cleaned before the gathering. Usually, the lowliest servant of the household was solicited to do this dirty job. Think about it. Who really wants to wash a bunch of dirty, stinky feet?
Acting as host of this Passover meal, I can only imagine the surprise when Jesus is the one who washes his friend’s feet. He doesn’t solicit a servant. Jesus takes this job upon himself.
It’s not a coincidence that he does this. No, it’s very intentional and purposeful. Forever the teacher, Jesus is again modeling and teaching his closest friends how to treat each other when he is no longer with them.
It begins with a basin, some water and a towel. It begins with washing each other’s feet, whether literally or figuratively. We “wash” each other’s feet when we give of ourselves to others. When we love unconditionally. As we give more to others than we expect in return.
While Jesus washes the disciple’s feet, there is confusion about why he would do this. I see his act as part of the larger picture of what Jesus wants the disciples, and us, to remember. Believers in God do not think what others can do for themselves but what they can do for others. We discover that no job is too lowly, ugly or awful when we do it out of love for those who mean the most to us. Jesus is setting the stage for the even more significant way he will give of himself the next day … and the disciples have no clue. But Jesus is already dropping hints and teachings to help guide the disciples along.
Serving others is not always what we want to do. Too often, we think life is a scorecard and others must check some things under our name before we give more of ourselves. Fortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t keep score. Jesus just keeps giving. All the way to a cross.
Often, we think giving means some big, expensive gift. But this is not the kind of giving Jesus promotes. He says our giving must come out of the most normal, everyday parts of life; just like washing another person’s feet. Giving isn’t about costs or expenses. It’s about our heart and where it is through the act of giving.
Often, we skip over the foot washing part of this scripture during Maundy Thursday worship. Why? Because the thought of washing someone else’s feet grosses us out. Who wants to wash someone else’s feet? Or have their feet washed?
I was living overseas as a missionary the first time I had my feet washed during Holy Week. We were at the home of an American family who had young children. Grace, the mom, got out a big 5-gallon bucket (no idea where she got it from), filled it with sudsy water and took turns washing our feet. It seemed like such a normal thing to do. There was no discussion about whether our feet would be washed. They just were.
It was a simple way to celebrate Maundy Thursday … and yet, so very profound. When it came time for the other teacher I lived with and me to go home, I didn’t want to put my very clean feet into my dirty shoes. It was cold outside with snow on the ground. It seemed a little sacrilegious to cover up my clean feet with dirty socks and shoes. But the act was not about the clean feet, as much as I enjoyed them. It was about someone else washing my feet.
It started with a basin, some water and a towel. A profound and important lesson for us all. Being part of God’s kingdom means giving to others. Doing jobs that aren’t glamorous. Putting up with some stink so that someone else can feel blessed, which is exactly how I felt after Grace washed my feet.
I pray we are overwhelmed with the sacrifice that Jesus makes on our behalf. But before he gets to the cross, Jesus first washes feet. Dirty, ugly, sweaty feet. With no complaints.
Even if you do not literally wash another person’s feet this Holy Week, we have plenty of opportunities to figuratively wash someone else’s feet. As we do this, we take the role of servant for God’s kingdom. We humble ourselves and model a giving and loving heart.
This, my friends, is the message of Holy Week. Of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And it all starts with a basin, some water and a towel.
For this simple and profound message of loving and giving, I am grateful.
Holy God – You love us so much and demonstrate it to us in so many different ways. Before there was the cross, there was a basin, some water and a towel. May I grasp opportunities to humbly love and give to others this Holy Week. Amen.
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