In Jesus’ time, foot washing was a common practice. People wore sandals, and their feet would often become dirty from traveling dusty roads and paths. Upon entering a house, the first order of business was the washing of feet. If a person were wealthy enough to have a servant, his servant would wash his feet and the feet of visiting guests.
By washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was doing what an ordinary servant would do. What made His act so extraordinary is that He was their Lord and Teacher. In their society (and ours) no one of any stature would stoop to such a lowly level of servanthood. But Jesus wanted to demonstrate to them what true greatness was in God’s eyes. In God’s kingdom, the greatest person is the one who serves others. Jesus, of course, is the greatest servant there ever was—He gave His life for us all.
If Jesus visited you and wanted to teach the same lesson, He probably wouldn’t wash your feet, but would do something more culturally relevant. He would perform some equivalent lowly and undesirable task to demonstrate true servanthood. Perhaps He would wash out your garbage cans or clean your toilet. If He was visiting your church on Sunday, He might work in the nursery, changing diapers. Then He would say, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). God wants His children to serve each other in practical ways. The question is: Are we?