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Why Jesus Washed Our Feet
April 8, 1990


My name is Peter. Actually, I was named Simon by my parents, but after I became a disciple of Jesus, Jesus changed my name to Peter which means "rock." That was a laugh! In the beginning, I wasn't much of a rock! Especially the night Jesus was arrested, I was not solid enough, not firm or strong enough to stand with him. Three times I even denied that I knew Jesus. I'm still ashamed of that bit of cowardice. Some rock I was!

Anyway, that's another story, and I don't have time to tell you my life story. I was invited here this morning to tell you why Jesus washed our feet.

Let me tell you the story. It was time for the Passover dinner. The Passover commemorated the dramatic escape from Egypt when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Hebrew slaves. We Jews have celebrated the Passover for centuries with a special menu and sharing of the story.

Well, Jesus and we disciples were in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. Usually, the Passover was celebrated with one's family, but as our families were in Galilee, far from Jerusalem, we decided to celebrate with one another. Jesus asked John and me to arrange to have the food prepared.

There was a bit of mystery associated with our celebration as we were in hiding. We knew the authorities were getting upset with Jesus. We even went to the village of Bethany to sleep so we'd be out of danger. When we asked Jesus where he wanted to have the dinner, he mysteriously said, "When you enter the city you will see a man carrying a jar of water. Follow him to the house that he enters." Then Jesus gave us a code by which we would identify ourselves. He said to say to the owner of the house, "The teacher asks: where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?" Jesus said the owner would then show us a large room upstairs, all furnished. Sure enough that's how it happened. We followed the man with the jar, met the owner, gave him the password, and we arranged for the dinner.

That evening when all the disciples began gathering for the dinner, a strange thing happened or, rather I should say, it was strange because it didn't happen. No one washed our feet. Now, it was the custom, like taking your shoes off in Japan, for the host's servants to wash the guests' feet. We lived in a hot, dry climate with no sidewalks or paved streets. We wore open sandals so our feet were usually very dirty. Rather than track dust all over the house, someone would wash the guests' feet. It also felt wonderful after a long walk (we had no cars or buses), to have your feet washed and massaged.

What did not happen at our Passover party was no one washed our feet. There were no servants. None of us was willing to wait on the rest of us, and we disciples had already had some unpleasant disagreements over authority issues. We all kept wondering and whispering among ourselves as to which of us would be the greatest in the kingdom Jesus was going to set up. We all wanted the seats at the head of the table, next to the Messiah, next to the king! We all wanted to be Jesus' generals! So, who was going to wash the feet of the others and place himself beneath them? Who was going to assume the lowly role of servant? Not any of us! We wanted to be the big shots, not do menial labor! I suppose we could have gone dutch treat, and let everyone wash his own feet, but we didn't!

We entered the room, took our places around the table, and began the meal by lighting the candles and praying, with dirty, hot, unwashed feet. Also, remember we weren't sitting on chairs like you do. We were lying down, reclining on one elbow eating off a low table, reclining with our dirty, dusty feet sticking and stinking in each others faces! It was quite unpleasant!

Then, Jesus had enough. He could wait no longer for us to grow up. He let us act like spoiled brats as long as he could stand it. Right in the middle of the meal, Jesus got up from the table, took off his cloak, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into the basin.

You could have heard a pin drop. No one breathed. We were so shocked. Jesus interrupted the meal, interrupted the liturgy--the questions and answers--to wash our feet! I'm afraid you Americans can't quite sense the drama here. Our society was much more structured and stratified than yours. The head of a house would never wash feet. A teacher would never wash his pupils' feet. A master, a guru, would never wash his disciples' feet. It just was not done.

And because we disciples would not humbly serve one another, Jesus did it. I was horrified. I was embarrassed. I felt guilty for not being big enough to wash feet. I felt about as small as a bug!

Then Jesus came to me. He knelt before me with his basin of water. He reached out for my foot. I recoiled, pulled back, and said, "No, Lord, you shall never wash my feet!"

Jesus looked at me with those piercing, yet loving eyes; eyes that commanded respect and loyalty, and he said, "Unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me. You will no longer be my disciple."

I was crushed. I had given him my life. I had left my fishing business, left my wife and family behind. I believed in what Jesus was saying and doing. I believed and I wanted to be part of it; to be part of the new kingdom Jesus was bringing. But, there was so much I didn't understand, so much beyond me. I continually kept putting my foot in my mouth. I'd say the wrong things, impetuously getting myself in trouble. And I was supposed to be a rock!

And now I had offended Jesus by not wanting him to wash my feet. Everything I did was wrong. I didn't want to offend him. No way! So I said, again impetuously, "Lord, don't wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head too."

After Jesus had washed my feet, and the other disciples as well, he stood up, took off the towel, put his cloak back on, and returned to his place at the table.

He looked around the table, into each of our faces and calmly asked, "Do you understand what I have just done? I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another's feet. I have set an example for you." Just so we would get the point, he added a zinger. He often added zingers! He said, "Now that you know this, how happy you will be if you put it into practice!"

I'm impressed this morning by the large number of you who have gathered in Jesus' name. I hope you are serious about being a disciple. How this world needs you! How badly this world needs foot washers, disciples of Jesus who are willing to serve, disciples of Jesus who are more eager to wait on than to be waited on--more eager to wait on their spouse, parents, children, and neighbors than to be waited on by their spouse, parents, children, and neighbors. How much this world needs disciples of Jesus who will wash feet, who will do even the most menial of jobs, with no job beneath them, and no human beneath them, who do not need to sit in the seats of honor, but are quite willing to be the servants.

How much this world needs disciples of Jesus. Are you one? Are you one of his lambs? I'll never forget how Jesus appeared after his resurrection and told me to feed his lambs, to take care of his flock. That's why I've come today. I've come to you as lambs of his flock to enlist you in the cause, to invite you and challenge you to become a foot washer, a disciple of Jesus.

(Hymn #347, "Spirit Song," was sung as a solo) O let the Son of God enfold you with his Spirit and his love. Let him fill your heart and satisfy your soul. O let him have the things that hold you, and his spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole.

(Refrain) Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.

O come and sing this song with gladness as your hearts are filled with joy.Lift your hand in sweet surrender to his name. O give him all your tears and sadness;give him all your years of pain and you'll enter into life in Jesus' name.

© 1990 Douglas I. Norris