The Passage We Are Munching On this Week
Why Did Jesus Wash Feet???
We are asking that question due to the fact that Jesus literally washed feet. If we are to literally follow in His footsteps, we might have the grand idea to start some sort of Mani-Pedi business for the Glory of God! However, any educated person will soon realize that the act of washing the feet is an example. Jesus clearly wanted his Disciples within the account of John 13 and now the Disciples in our present time to take away more than just the act of washing stinky feet of those that didn’t really want to have their feet washed by the TEACHER.
AHHHHH, TEACHER! Now, that sounds like a verbal cue that we can work with! That is why we keep coming back to the Word of God and keep learning. We know that Jesus is still teaching us today and had way deeper implications to his actions than the common, literal approach.
I really like what Tom Reinke’s Article says about the connection between Slaves and Foot Washing that ties in a deeper understanding that Jesus may have been teaching by His actions, leading to the Cross. (read Tom Reinke’s full article here)
Slaves and Foot Washing
For the sandal-wearing disciples, washing feet was a common cultural practice. It was proper hospitality to offer your guests a basin of water for their feet. But guests were usually expected to wash their own feet. Washing the dirt off someone else’s feet was a task reserved for only the lowest ranking Gentile servants, and Jewish slaves were often exempted from this duty. In a household without slaves, everyone washed his or her own feet.1
Yet Jesus willingly dropped to his knees in the position of this extra-lowly slave to wash the disciples’ feet in John 13:1–20. The disciples were immediately shocked, and it seems, embarrassed by this act of humility. But their surprise should be no surprise to us. “There is no instance in either Jewish or Greco-Roman sources of a superior washing the feet of an inferior.”2 And this was the Creator of the universe on his knees washing the dirt from the callused feet of his followers!
When Simon Peter refused to have his feet washed, Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). Whatever the meaning of the foot washing, it was not immediately evident to the disciples. The washing provided an example of love towards one another (John 13:12–17), but it also forecasted something.
Hold that thought for one moment.
Slaves and Crucifixion
If foot washing was the task of the lowest slave, public crucifixion was a unique threat to the slave class. With few exceptions, Roman citizens and the upper classes were spared from crucifixion. Slaves were especially vulnerable.
Crucifixion was a public tool to discourage dishonesty, retaliation, and rebellion among the slave class.3 In 71 B.C., after a slave rebellion was suppressed in Spartacus, over 6,000 slaves were crucified together along the Via Appia between Capua and Rome.4 In other instances, if one slave was caught breaking the law, the entire slave community within a single household could be rounded up and crucified together, irrespective of individual guilt.5
So while the brutal punishment of crucifixion was used for dangerous criminals and for political insurrectionists (of which Jesus was accused), it was especially used to intimidate the slave class. Public crucifixions kept slaves in line. So much so that crucifixion eventually became known by a convenient circumlocution, “the slaves’ punishment.”
Slavery and crucifixion merged in the social consciousness, writes one author:
It is hardly an accident that crucifixion, the most dishonorable form of public humiliation that socially conscious Roman elites could employ in their efforts to punish and discourage rebellion among the lower classes, was so closely associated with slavery, the lowest class in the stratified social world of Roman antiquity. The juxtaposition of the two ideas — σταυρός [cross] and δούλος [slave] — served to compound the social stigma associated with both slavery and crucifixion in the ancient world and thereby to reinforce in the public arena the social hierarchy that served the interests of the dominant culture.6
Think Deeper and Look broader
Taking this view, we can look at what we are munching on and think with a broader view.
If Jesus, our Lord and Savior, has stepped down to the lowest place as that of a slave or servant, then we ought to step down to the lowest place as a slave or servant to Jesus Christ and serve others.
This is is the challenge in our own lives. As Jesus asked His Disciples to follow His example in John 13, He also calls us to do the same. Why did Jesus wash feet? To show us how to live a life that invites the Kingdom of God to come in our own lives and let the Father’s will be done in our present time.