Jesus Washing Feet, Interpret.

December 13, 2006

I’ve decided to take a moment from my busy cookie baking and finals studying to write about what I’ve been thinking about lately even though, in reality, time does not allow it. I didn’t want to wait any longer to write about these things because, eventually, I will stop thinking about it all and then what will I write?

Originally I wanted to focus on the topic of grace but every time I sat down to write I got focused on this recent lecture in my Life of Christ class and I just couldn’t get past it. So, rather than the topic, here’s what I learned from the lecture because, really, that’s what’s on my mind. That and which cookies I should bake tomorrow and will I pass the final in the aforementioned class.

This was the last lecture for the class so, as you can imagine, we were nearing the end of the gospels. At the start of class we were at the Upper Room Discourse. Throughout the class we have primarily focused on Mark’s gospel but today we diverged to look at John. At the start of all that happens in the upper room Jesus washes the discipes feet. The professor introduces it, reads the passage, and then says, “Let’s do it.” We all sort of laugh. Then he pulls out a basin from his podium. Less laughter. Then there are towels. Minimal laughter, perhaps some akward giggles. He sits down across from a chair and invites any student that wants to come have their feet washed. No one moves. The room is dead silent. After a few moments he says, “So I guess you all relate to Peter?” reminding us of verse six when Peter says, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”. And we did. I did. This is a professor that I respect immensely and I could not imagine letting him wash my feet. No. Finally one student goes up there, he sort of did it jokingly yet the professor looked him dead in the eye as he washed his foot. (Yes, only one foot.) It was a powerful moment in the class. If I respected him before I certainly respected him now.

Then he heads back to his podium and asked if the class understood what this act meant, much like Jesus did to the disciples (v 12). He invited us to look at the text again for interpretation. He focused primarily on Jesus’ interaction with Peter. The way that Christ speaks about His own actions indicates that there may be more to it then just an act of service. Look at the text:

“Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.””

Using this passage, our professor defended that Jesus was most likely illustrating sanctification and forgiveness. Verse ten is particularly convincing. The washing of the whole body is salvation, reconciliation with God through faith in Christ. This is why Christ does not say that the whole body must be cleaned again. The washing of the feet, a part of the body that continually gets dirty through walking dusty paths, illustrates sanctification, the forgiveness of our sins. Now, if this interpretation is true, it’s bad news for Judas but that can be a discussion for another day.

The interpretation fits though because, as the professor pointed out, the rest of the Upper Room Discourse focuses on sanctification. Think of the vine and the branches found in chapter 15. This is again about this ongoing relationship with Christ and the cleansing that is necessary for sanctification.

So, what then does it mean when Christ urges us to follow his example in washing one another’s feet. Is it literal? Perhaps. But, beyond that, Christ urges us to forgive one another. This is where it really went deep for me. For days I had been considering grace and how painful of a thing it is to accept, particularly when you truly know you do not deserve it. Sometimes it is difficult for me to even accept my husband’s love let alone God’s because of how painful it is to accept grace. It is true in this illustration. Peter did not want to allow Jesus to humble himself. The professor pointed out how funny it is that people are almost universally embarrassed of their feet. What a silly thing! It’s also true that forgiving others takes humility. A friend later said that it’s like the real dirty work is the washing, that’s where you have the potential to get the muddiest.

So, sit in the chair and let Christ wash your feet and forgive you of your sins. Remember to follow His example. Humble yourself and forgive those around you. Get over all the dirt and mud on the feet and the fact that it smells when your down there and the fact that they can’t just clean it themselves and the fact that they may not even realize how very dirty they are and forgive them. In doing this you follow Christ’s example. The church could really use some unconditional love and forgiveness. At least, I know I could. Couldn’t you?


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