Imagine what might be on the feet of people who did not wear shoes or wore only thin leather on the bottom of their feet during a time when sanitation regulations were pretty much nonexistent. During biblical times it was the job of the servants to fetch water in order that traveling guests could wash the filth from their feet. If the person was to be honored based on his status, the servant would personally wash the guest’s feet. From a social perspective, we can see that the job of washing feet was one of great humility. (Gen 18:4; Gen 24:32; Gen 43:24; I Sa 25:41). The head of the house would give the order or set up the tradition in his home to fetch water for guests’ feet. It was a sign of hospitality (I Tim 5:10). The word used in the bible for hospitality is Philoxenia which means, “lover of strangers”. Hebrews 13:2 says Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware. In John 12, Mary pours costly perfume on Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. In this case washing feet is a symbol of Love and Generosity (Jn 12:3). Mary took a menial routine task and made it an act of sacrificial worship. In the same manner, In Luke 7 we learn of a sinful woman with an alabaster jar who washed Jesus feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). Very practically, foot washing is a means of getting the dirt off. Once the feet are washed the dirt is only a distant memory of our past journey, never to have the same dirt upon us again. Ironically, as a result of humbly worshipping Jesus by washing His feet the dirt from the woman’s life-long, sinful journey was washed away.
The night before Jesus was crucified; he shared a meal with his disciples and washed their feet. Jesus did this as an example to all of us of servanthood. If Jesus, our Master, could lower himself upon his knee to wash the feet of those who followed him, then certainly we could wash the feet of those around us (Jn 13:5-15). In fact, Jesus commanded the disciples to wash one another’s feet.
Finally, and most importantly, foot washing is a tangible symbol of Christ’s forgiveness. In the Old Testament (Exd 30:19-21; Exd 40:31) the priests had to cleanse themselves before going into the Tent of Meeting. Washing their feet prepared them for God’s presence. In the New Testament (Romans 5:11; Eph 5:25-27), Christ became our atonement. Through Christ’s death on the cross He poured out His blood so that we could choose to be cleansed. His blood makes us worthy of God’s presence.
Biblically, foot washing is a symbol of how we should each live a Christ-centered, Christ-like life. We are to be servants who humbly love one another. We are to live generously – generously and sacrificially pouring our worship onto the living God, and generously pouring mercy onto one another so that the dirt of life can be washed away through Christ’s love in us. We are to be examples by obeying Christ and by being tangible symbols of Christ’s forgiveness to the world around us.
~ Todd and Trisha Bowman
Christ Fellowship members