The night before Jesus was crucified, he met with his disciples for one last, extremely important lesson. He began this time together by washing the disciples’ feet and then pointing out to them the implications of what he was doing. Here is a Q & A session to help you consider this significant moment in the events of Holy Week.
Q How does Jesus’ knowledge of his relationship with the Father, and of his future destiny, affect his decision to wash the disciples’ feet? An. Whatever is meant by “all things” Jesus certainly felt comfortably equipped to do any task set before him. All of God’s authority and resources are at his disposal. So he didn’t have to put on a show to convince himself, or anyone else, how competent he was. His self-concept was not contingent on any task he did, because he knew he was in line with the Father’s will. Furthermore, he was not afraid that any graciousness on his part would diminish these resources at all. All things were his in that they were all available to him for whatever need he encountered. Therefore Jesus feared no loss by taking on the servant’s posture and performing the servant’s task.
Q In what does having a part with Jesus consist? An. Being a partner with Jesus means at least having access to all the things the Father had given him, as well as access to the Father himself because of Jesus’ imminent return to be with the Father. It must also mean that one retains Jesus as both Teacher and Lord, so that one benefits from his wisdom and his sovereignty. And it is particularly his wisdom—his role as teacher—that is being emphasized in this passage.
Q What attitude do we see in Peter’s first response to Jesus? [Why is it difficult to let others serve us?] An. Peter’s negative response is a kind of pride. While he appears to be humble, he has actually established himself in a position to judge the actions and motives of his master. Pride also keeps us from allowing people to help us, because we believe such permission is an admission of need on our part.
Q In what does the disciples’ original cleansing consist? An. Since Judas is not and never has been clean, the cleansing must exist at a level other than the physical. Some of the characteristics of a clean person are evident here: One who is clean has access to Jesus and the Father. One who is clean needs to be washed when he gets dirty. So cleanliness must consist in a personal, real moral purity which makes one acceptable to God. It at least indicates a change of heart and mind such that one is mostly aligned with God’s design for the world, including a delight in God and his approval (cf. 12:43—They loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God), and a confidence in Jesus as one who authoritatively presents access to all that God has for humankind.
Q Why does any disciple who is clean need more cleansing? An. Evidently the purity created by the original cleansing does not keep us perfectly clean. If we refuse to clean off the dirt that accumulates, the original cleansing becomes worthless—we cannot refuse if we want to retain a portion with Jesus. It would seem receiving God’s resources through Jesus wipes the dirt of competing truth claims from the windows of our souls, so that we continue entrusting our futures to him.
This idea of on-going cleansing is echoed in 1 John 1:7-9 with a negative emphasis:
If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Q How do we know that the act of service itself is of secondary significance? An. Jesus makes the feet washing metaphorical by comparing it to the kind of cleansing he has already accomplished in their lives. Judas had probably bathed for the dinner just as the other eleven, but Jesus said he was not clean. Therefore the physical act of cleansing also has to be a metaphor.
Q How can something such as washing feet cause a spiritual cleansing of the kind we’ve just described? An. Footwashing is a kind of service that believers do for one another. It is an example of seeing a need and using the resources of God that each of us has to meet that need. By submitting to the help of individuals who are extending grace from Jesus, we reaffirm our reliance on Jesus for all of the issues of life. This submission is an expression of faith for those who are already clean, which exalts both the wisdom and sovereignty of Jesus. Accepting good from Jesus, through the hands of his followers, actually cleanses our souls of any sense of self-sufficiency, thereby maintaining a vital connection to Jesus. Furthermore, since all faith is justifying faith, these acts of submission also maintain a continual application to the believer of Jesus’ death. We can see a dual-cleansing resulting from the humble reception of Jesus’ service.
Q Is the blessing promised to the foot washer similar to what is promised to the one whose feet are washed? An. The blessing is promised not to the person washed, but to the person who washes. Jesus has already demonstrated the blessing that accrues to the person who receives the washing, namely continuing to be connected to Jesus and all his resources. In order to be a “foot-washer” we must be connected to Jesus and have confidence that his resources are readily available. Seeing someone else benefit by extending his grace, and seeing oneself not diminished by the same extension, will motivate us to stay connected to the One who is at home with the Father. So in essence the blessings are the same all around.
Summary: The imperative: We must be involved in one another’s lives. The promise: By humbly applying the principles Jesus taught, the blessings of such fellowship will be ours.
- If we trust God to supply us all that we need, we’ll feel secure and courageous enough to extend ourselves to others without fear of loss.
- If we submit ourselves to the service of our brothers and sisters, we’ll reaffirm the all-sufficient grace of God.
- If we stoop to be servants of the body by extending the goodness we’ve received to meet the needs of others, we’ll know the joy of a deeper and richer experience of Jesus as both Teacher and Lord.