Wednesday, August 29, 2012

John 13: Jesus Washes His Disciples Feet

Jesus answered,Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (Verse 8)

Peter didn't want Jesus to wash his feet. Why? It seems that he thought it inappropriate. A holy man (God?) shouldn't have to bend down and scrub a fisherman's feet! For the fisherman to allow him to do so would be shameful. Surely a reverent, moral man would protest: “No, my lord, I will wash YOUR feet!

But Jesus doesn't need anyone to wash his feet. If we tried to wash them, we'd only make them dirty. We need him to wash our feet. The moral thing to do is not to offer God our foot-washing services. The moral thing to do is to receive the foot-washing service that He offers. Those who belong to Jesus are the ones who realize that they need to be washed and who are willing to swallow their pride and allow themselves to be washed.

All this makes sense to me. What I don't get are verses 9-10. Peter says, “Then, Lord – not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answers, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean...

What does Jesus mean here? In a literal sense, I'm sure Peter's feet were more dirty than the rest of him and were in greater need of washing. But if the foot-washing is meant to represent a spiritual reality, why didn't Jesus respond to Peter's request with enthusiasm? “Very good, Peter! Yes, you must allow me to clean EVERY part of you. The feet are just the beginning.” Instead Jesus says, “No, you've already had a bath. You only need your feet cleaned”? What is the spiritual truth that Jesus is expressing here?

According to my commentary, this particular passage is hard to interpret. The church fathers thought it meant that once a person is converted/baptized, only partial washing (in the form of confession) is needed. I don't know if that interpretation really fits, though. When Jesus says, “Unless you let me wash you, you have no part with me” he is clearly referring specifically to the foot washing, because that is what Peter is objecting to. But if the foot-washing is only supposed to represent some kind of regular “clean-up” that people who are already baptized/converted do, then don't his words seem a little strong? Surely someone who has been baptized/converted does belong to Jesus, even if they don't confess regularly...? Maybe this is one of those passages that highlights that mysterious connection between faith and works – those who “have a part” with Jesus will confess. If they don't, it's a sign that their baptism/conversion wasn't genuine.

I don't know. That explanation still isn't giving me a sense of “A-ha! That's it!” Any thoughts?


  1. 1 John says that we must walk in the light, confess sins to one another. The blood of Christ will continually purify us. We are saved through batism, by faith. However we do get dirty all the time in this world.-Sin etc. We do not need to go get baptized again. We are in him. But you can only imagine, prayer, communion with God, confess sins, to God and one another. Remain in him, so that we can be continually cleased of the sins we commit daily! thanks for the post!

  2. If the foot washing is about confession, then the instruction to wash each other's feet is about confessing our sins to one another? What about that?

  3. The word feet is in the bible 239 times. I did a word search via bible gateway because I was looking up Rom 10:14-15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.

    I think the Lord put emphasis on the feet of a person because they take us everywhere we go in life. Mary anointed Jesus's feet in preparation for where He was going. I think when your feet are "washed" cleansed, sins forgiven they begin to lead you on the path of seeking out God's righteousness.