“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:3-5
In a moment of vulnerability and love, before the darkest hour in His life, Jesus, knowing full well His identity and His destiny, wrapped a towel around His waist and knelt before His disciples to wash their dust-ridden, tired feet.
Here’s what stands out about this: The task of feet-washing was one reserved for non-Jewish servants; however, Jesus saw it as an honor and as a demonstration of the power He received from God.
In addition, feet-washing, common as it was, was supposed to take place before a meal. This way, guests could comfortably come to the table clean and refreshed. In stark contrast, Jesus begins washing feet only after His friends have sat down at the table with Him.
Last, when prompted to clean his disciples’ hands and heads as well, Jesus chooses to focus only on what’s truly dirty, saying, “the one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet.”
After He has washed every foot, including those of His betrayer, Jesus says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.”
This is a juxtaposition of the knowledge of power and the use of power. Jesus knows, acknowledges, and announces the power given to Him by the Father; then, He acts on it; then, He empowers others to follow His lead.
When Jesus waits until the middle of supper to begin washing feet, He makes a powerful statement to His disciples: you don’t have to be clean to come to the table with me, you just have to let me wash you once you’re here. In this divine invitation, Jesus uses His power to expel shame from the equation and eliminate any and all prerequisites for fellowship with Him. By standing up during supper, Jesus changes the equation, from “come clean” to “come as you are.”
Next, when Peter demands the notoriety of having his hands and head washed by Jesus too, Jesus responds by saying He only wants what’s dirtiest, what’s most affected by where Peter has been; what’s most in need of cleansing. Jesus uses His power to declare that He’s not afraid of or threatened by our sin. Instead, He must be a part of it. To have a share in Jesus, He needs to have a share in our sin. This happens when we invite Him to cleanse us from what we’re most ashamed of. Jesus, kneeling to clean Peter’s unkempt feet, says to him and to us, that He is never going to be ashamed of us or our mess.
Before the meal is finished, Jesus looks His friends in the eyes and invites them to do exactly what He’s done. Stand tall in the authority the Father has given you and love the people around you. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Power can seem like a threatening, unsafe word. But when we look at how Jesus used it, it becomes a safe, encouraging, empowering word. When we use power the way Jesus did, people get free. If you’ll remember, the men whose feet were washed that day are the same men who turned around and built the Church.