Washing the disciples’ feet

When they gathered for the meal that night, Jesus took the place of a servant and washed the disciples’ feet. By this action he symbolized firstly, the need for humility, and secondly, that he, the perfect servant, would cleanse people from sin through his death (John 13:1-5). Peter, not understanding this symbolic action, objected. Jesus responded that if he refused to let Jesus cleanse him, he could not be Jesus’ disciple. By this cleansing, Jesus was referring to cleansing from sin, something that Peter would understand more fully after Jesus had died, risen and been glorified (John 13:6-8; cf. Acts 5:30-31;

1 Peter 1:18-21; 2:24).

Peter thought that if washing the feet symbolized cleansing, he should be washed all over, to ensure complete cleansing. Again he did not realize that this was what Jesus had just symbolized. The disciples (with the exception of Judas) were already cleansed all over, and needed no further symbolic cleansing. The only washing necessary was the washing of the feet, and that was not for cleansing but for humility (John 13:9-11).

Jesus had given the apostles an example. If he, their Lord and teacher, humbled himself by washing their feet, how much more should they, his servants, humble themselves in serving one another (John 13:12-17). Jesus knew that Judas was a traitor, but the rest were his servants and messengers. Those who received them received him and his Father (John 13:18-20).

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