Personally I'm not all that fond of feet. Sure, they're very functional and necessary for things like walking and standing, but they aren't exactly lovely, in my opinion. In fact, they can be pretty gross at times--dirty, smelly, and adorned with a variety of lint and toe jam. And then there are the toenails. These can be pretty disgusting, too, especially if the nails are so long that they've started to curl over the ends of the toes.
Needless to say, I could never give anyone a pedicure, although I do enjoy being on the receiving end of one. Touching someone else's feet just isn't my gift. Of course, baby feet are a completely different thing. I've actually kissed the feet of all three of my babies many, many times! But that was when they were untouched, unworn. And I'm the one that washed them, so I knew they were clean! Washing an adult's feet, however, does not exactly get me excited. It seems to me to be among the lowliest of tasks. So when I read about Jesus voluntarily washing His disciples' feet, I am truly humbled.
Jesus said that He "did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matthew 20:28). Nothing was ever "beneath" Him; He was never "too good" to do something like wash someone else's dirty feet . . . and He was the Creator of the universe! Nothing was demanded of Him; everything was given by Him. And it was always given in love.
On this particular evening, which was to be His last here on earth, Jesus was having supper with His twelve disciples. He knew that He was going to be put to death in just a matter of hours, yet He continued to serve those around Him. For most of us, when asked the hypothetical question about how we would want to spend our final hours, the answer probably wouldn't be, "You know, I really think I'd like to wash a bunch of feet." But this is how Jesus showed His love for these guys. "He loved them to the end" (John 13:1).
When it was Peter's turn to have his feet washed, he tried to make himself look good by objecting. "Never shall You wash my feet!", he declared. But when Jesus answered, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me," Peter was quick to recant. "Lord, not my feet only," he said, "but also my hands and my head." (Can't you just picture Jesus trying hard not to roll His eyes at these guys sometimes?! Instead, He always gives them a calm explanation.) "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you," He said.
When Jesus made this statement, He was referring to Judas, one of the ones who was closest to Him but who was planning to betray Him. If it were me, I probably would have made a big scene about Judas' plot and certainly could not have washed his feet. But that's me, and I am full of sin and pride. Jesus, who is full of righteousness and love, wanted to make sure that even this man knew how much He loved him. He didn't snub him and skip over him; in fact, He probably took even more care when washing Judas' feet, because that's His character. Jesus did let Judas know that He was aware of his intention, but even this was done in humility.
At the end of this foot-washing ceremony, Jesus does give some more explanation. He challenges the disciples to follow His lead, saying, "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you." At this point, they may have been wondering, "Does He mean for us to get up right now and do it, or are we supposed to do it later? . . . Are we just supposed to wash each other's feet or other people's, too? . . . He said we're supposed to do as He did, but I started daydreaming for a minute and didn't pay attention. I hope He does it again . . . "
I'm pretty sure that Jesus' example to His followers went beyond the washing of feet, though. As I said before, this practice just seems to be among the lowliest, so His challenge was for them to purposely place themselves in a position of humility, doing something that was not required of them, and doing it simply out of love for one another. I'm also pretty sure that Jesus' example was not merely for the twelve guys eating supper with Him that evening. It extends to all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ.
In our American society, it is not our nature to look first for ways to serve others before serving ourselves. (People usually only wash our feet if they are getting paid to do so!) We tend to reserve the "real" serving for week-long mission trips or special projects around Thanksgiving and Christmas. In between, it's all too easy to get caught up in self-service, making sure our own pedicures are flawless. All the while, there are people around us who desperately need their feet simply to be washed . . . or their hands to be held, their tears to be dried, their bodies to be clothed, their words to be heard, their feelings to be acknowledged, or their hearts to be encouraged. Service takes on many forms. Jesus is our ultimate example, and He did much, much more than just wash feet. And while we can't do everything He did, we can ask Him to show us how He wants us to serve those around us in daily, practical ways. And, yes, that might mean having to touch someone's feet . . . toe jam and all!