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 13:6-15
I love when the Lord shows me something new in a passage of scripture I’ve read a hundred times. I read the above passage the other day and felt like the Lord showed me something new. We tend to think of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an act of humble service whereby He then instructs His disciple to do the same for each other (that is, serve each other). But consider that there’s more that Jesus is addressing here.
We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about personal hygiene. And I believe He’s talking about more than just service. When He’s talking about taking a bath, He’s really talking about baptism/salvation. He’s talking about the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
And when Jesus is talking about washing feet, He’s talking about the regular cleansing that we need even after we are saved. Jesus said, “Those who have had a bath (been saved) need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” Meaning, we who are followers of Jesus have already been forgiven of all of our sin, and yet we still need a regular kind of cleansing because of our regular contact with sin and the contaminants of the world. We’ve been cleansed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (our spiritual bath), yet we still get the muck and grime of the world on us simply by walking daily in the world. After we have had a “bath” we don’t need to get saved over and over again, but we do need a different kind of cleansing. We do need a foot washing.
We see this same kind of “dual cleansing” demonstrated by the priests at the Temple. First, they offered the sacrifices of animals to account for their sin. The spilling of blood addressed their guilt from sin. Yet, the priests also had to wash in the wash basin before entering the Holy Place. The washing with water addressed anything they may have had contact with that made them “unclean.” And these wash basins were made from bronze mirrors. They would have literally seen a reflection of themselves as they washed away the contaminants of the world with water. I don’t think it was an accident that a time of reflection accompanied this time of cleansing.
Jesus introduces a new kind of “dual cleansing” for the new priesthood of believers. First, baptism represents the full and total cleansing of our life from sin. Jesus’s blood is what would enable the Holy Spirit to come and bathe us in righteousness from the inside out. Then, a foot washing, which represents the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.
Not only do we need a spiritual “foot washing,” a regular kind of repentance and cleansing, but this cleansing is something we believers can offer to each other. Jesus commands, “…you also should wash one another’s feet.” We not only are called to serve each other humbly, but we are called to participate in helping each other stay clean. The cleansing water is the Holy Spirit, and He does what only the Spirit can do. Yet, we can participate in this by metaphorically washing each other’s feet.
I have seen the reality of this kind of cleansing happen over and over in the prayer ministry we have at our church. People come in for prayer with the muck of sin and the muck of the world caked on them. They feel ashamed and defeated. They feel oppressed and depressed. They know there is more to this Christian life than what they are experiencing but they just can’t seem to tap into it. They are followers of Jesus who have been bathed in the waters of baptism, but they still need a foot washing for their soul.
Then we start praying, and the increased Presence of the Holy Spirit begins to be poured out. We as prayer ministers bend low to wash feet and the cleansing power of the Spirit does His work. I watch as time and again people get set free from sin, free from shame, free from unforgiveness and hurt, free from the heavy weight pressing down on their shoulders, free from the heaviness on their chest that keeps them from taking a full breath. As the cleansing water of the Spirit is poured out, the Light comes, lightness is felt, freedom is experienced, hope returns, and a cleansing takes place right in front of us.
When Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet, I do think he had in mind humble service. But I also think He had in mind ministry that brings freedom and cleansing, ministry that one believer can offer to another. We have the honor of ushering in the cleansing power of the Spirit for each other if we are willing to bend low. This ministry of cleansing is the ministry of washing feet and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and wash souls.