In the Gospel account of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, what did he mean in telling Peter “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”? (John 13:8b) I believe he saw the need for Peter and the disciples that night to have the life of Jesus in them. They would soon learn that he was going away. Luke 9 records a quarrel the disciples had about who would be the greatest in God’s Kingdom. Obviously, they thought of an earthly kingdom so they needed spiritual eyes to see God’s plan of salvation for mankind. To see with spiritual eyes, they needed the life of Jesus in them.
In showing the disciples their greatest need, Jesus also gave them an example of what they were to do with his life in them. In biblical times, the roads were not the smooth paved roads of today. Both animals and humans used them. Sometimes animal droppings stuck to travelers’ feet. If it rained, their feet were caked with mud. So feet were usually smelly and grimy. That is why the host never washed his guests’ feet. He would welcome his guests with a kiss and then direct his servants to do the foot washing. Yet Jesus went around and washed everyone’s feet - Judas, Peter, James, John and all the rest. He served their needs and then said, “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).
However, serving others is tough. It requires a sacrifice of something – one’s comfort, ease, recognition, adulation, etc. It requires a sacrifice of oneself, not just time and resources. That can be draining and exhausting. Sometimes the people you serve are the ones who let you down. Think about it. The scene is filled with irony. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, knowing they would betray him. Peter's feet would carry him to denial. Judas would run to betrayal. The rest would hide behind locked doors out of fear and anxiety. Yet he washed their feet anyway. He knew that they would fail him. Jesus knew that he would be left alone in the end, yet he loved those failed and frightened men whose feet he washed. Then he tells his disciples, and us too, that he has set an example for us to follow!
How can we do it? By our own effort, we will fail. We will end up with burnout, frustration and despair. We can only do it if we allow the love of God to flow out from us into our service to others. John 13:34 reminds us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another.” That is the only way we can serve – by loving. In fact, I believe you cannot serve without loving and you cannot love without serving. If you say you love someone, you will serve that person sacrificially. Those who are married will know the truth of this statement. Love is from the heart and servanthood begins with an attitude of the heart.
How can you make this command a reality today? There are many ways because, if love is there, we can be creative in finding ways to serve one another, even if it costs in time and resources. So be intentional, draw up a list of acts of service today. After that, commit it to God praying “this is what I will do, by your grace and because of your love for me.”