Dirty Feet and Proud Hearts (John 13:1-17)
Imagine hosting Thanksgiving dinner for your entire family. There is great effort and expense to make the day special and unforgettable. Perhaps due to failing health this will be the last holiday everyone can be together. But as the meal goes on, you realize things are amiss around the table. Some of the cousins are speaking in harsh hushed tones. Others are being short and curt, speaking through clenched teeth. Soon smiles are strained and the “special” family time is turning ugly. What would you do? You want to intervene and make peace before the holiday is wrecked.
Similarly, Jesus desired a pleasant Passover feast with the twelve. He said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:14-15). Yet this special holiday meal was marred by disputing disciples. An ongoing argument among the twelve got stirred up as dinner was winding down. They argued over who was the greatest (Luke 22:24)!
It is in this climate that Jesus intervened and did the unexpected. He settled the dispute among His twelve in an unforgettable way: He washed their feet.
“Jesus…rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:3-5).
There is a connection between dirty feet and proud hearts in the last supper accounts.
Proud Hearts and Dirty Feet
The apostles’ feet are dirty because they have been walking. When you combine the old Jerusalem roads (dusty, dirty, muddy) and the footwear of the day (thin leather souls tied on with cords) the result is dirty, hot (perhaps even wounded) feet. The apostles had walked to this borrowed house for the Passover.
But why are their feet dirty during the meal? No one had washed them. Evidently no one was assigned the task of washing feet and none volunteered.
Foot washing was simple etiquette. How could it be overlooked? Were the apostles too careless or lazy to wash feet? Luke’s record makes the situation clear: there was a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest (Luke 22:24). The apostles were not lazy, apathetic, or uncouth. They were proud.
Their dirty feet testified to their proud hearts. No one was going to stoop below the other to perform a lowly and demeaning service. Washing feet was slave work. Performing this task would surrender status in the eyes of the group. The apostles were jockeying for position in King Jesus’ court.
Leave it to Jesus, then, to humble His apostles by humbling Himself. Instead of being the guest of honor, He got up from the table. My guess is, that the apostles’ contentions kept them from noticing Jesus excusing Himself (after all, a man leaves the table for any number of reasons) – but when Jesus came back to the table with His dress so different, carrying a towel and basin and kneeling before the first disciple, it took the air out of the room. I imagine a sudden silence as twelve men are perplexed, embarrassed and even ashamed of themselves, to see Jesus washing feet (John 13:6, 8).
Jesus taught by example and precept to serve one another (John 13:12-17; Luke 22:25-27). If you want a position in Christ’s kingdom, there is only one office – servant to all! When your Lord, Teacher, and King serves… that makes you a servant, too!
But that night, the apostles were too proud to think of themselves as servants. They had proud hearts and the proof was their dirty feet. If only pride could be washed away as easily as the dirt on feet. But pride tends to cling.
Pride Clings When You Refuse to Serve
Why do we refuse to serve others at times? Does pride get the best of us? Perhaps we refuse to serve because of the task. There can be jobs that we believe ourselves to be above doing. We can see a need but ignore it for we imagine such is beneath us.
Or perhaps we refuse to serve because of a person? We are tempted to think we are better than another person and so resist serving them. For instance, if we imagine ourselves in this last supper situation and determined that we would do the right thing and wash feet, wouldn’t it be easier to wash Jesus’ feet than Judas’? Even though both sat at the table and both required that humble hospitality? It can be the person. Pride clinging to our hearts tells us that we are too good to do a menial task and/or we are better than another person. Either way we refuse to serve.
Do we honestly think we are better than our fellow man? Because we have more money or education, do we look down on others? Do we look down on others for their race or gender? Jesus Christ destroyed all such prideful notions. There is not a need of our brethren or neighbors that is beneath us. It is pride clinging to us when we refuse to serve. Such pride must be cleansed! Let us be clothed with humility, just as Jesus put on a towel to wash dirty feet (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Pride Clings When You Resist Others’ Service
Amazingly, Peter objects to Jesus’ service (John 13:6-8). This is ugly pride also! Sometimes we need a little help, mercy, aid, charity, or forgiveness and our pride will not allow us to ask for it – we even resist it if such is offered.
My two-year-old has been asserting her independence lately. Regardless of what her mother tries to help her with, she has been protesting, “No help! Livy do it! I do it myself.” Parents are glad to see a toddler learning some self-sufficiency. However, stubborn adults with an immature attitude of, “I do it all myself!” is unattractive and prideful.
The Secret to Humble Service: Know Who You Are
Jesus knew “all things” were in His hands yet He took up a towel (John 13:5-6). There is a connection between His knowledge and His actions. Because Jesus knew who He was, He did what He did (John 13:1-5). Furthermore, Jesus loved His disciples (John 13:1, 5). While such power and position might tempt us to pride, Jesus showed humility – especially ministering to those He loved. He washed their feet.
The Christian’s identity is found in Christ. Notice these parallels:
- Jesus’ hour had come (John 13:1)/ Christians redeem the time (Eph. 5:16)
- Jesus should depart to be with the Father (John 13:1)/ Christians know the Lord shall come (Matt. 24:36)
- The Father had given all things into Jesus’ hands (John 13:3)/ God gives Christians resources for His purposes (2 Cor. 9:10-11)
- Jesus came from God (John 13:3)/ Christians are the family of God (1 Tim. 3:15)
- Jesus was going to God (John 13:3)/ Christians are going to God through Christ (John 14:6)
Furthermore, just as Jesus loved His apostles and served them, we serve who we love. Christians serve God (Mark 12:30), Brethren (1 John 3:10-11), Family (Eph. 5:33; Titus 2:4; 1 Tim. 5:8), Neighbors (Mark 12:31), and even Enemies (Matt. 5:44). When we serve them, we love “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Dirty feet can be washed with water, but proud hearts are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and corrected with humble service.