2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 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. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
Here is a little ditty that you may have heard long ago:
Trick or treat
Smell my feet
Give me something
Good to eat
I learned this from my older cousin when I was about six years old and probably giggled like a fool about it for hours afterward. I do not recall whether I actually tried it out on Halloween night–although I probably did–or whether it meant my haul would include a larger amount of candy as a result.
The phrase sounds a bit like a Burma–Shave advertisement, and since it has come back to mind as a replay from the oldies-station-of-random-thoughts that is my brain, I decided to search the internet for its origins.
Apparently, the phrase’s first written use can be traced back to a 1964 column in the Long Beach Independent newspaper. Reporter George Robeson made reference to local Halloween observations and described two young pranksters as using the phrase to elicit candy treats from passers-by.
This tracks well with my own late-1970’s discovery of the phrase and why it still seemed novel at the time.
The internet reveals that there have been many versions of this jingle passed along through the years, including numerous verses. Some verses make reference to underpants, and even to Montreal–for Canadian trick-or-treaters, maybe?
My point is this, as the song says, feet are stinky and unpleasant. The fact that you may have even wrinkled your nose a little upon reading the rhyme is proof. The foot is one part of the body that in most parts of the world is considered socially unacceptable to reveal or experience in some settings.
In Iraq in 2008 an Iraqi threw his shoes at American President George W. Bush. The quick-reflexed President ducked the flying footwear but the message was loud and clear–this was meant as an insult. “No shirt, no shoes, no service” is a sign often seen at the entrance of businesses and for good cause–keep those dirty feet under cover where they belong.
We have come to chapter 13 of the Gospel according to John and, in the reading today, we encounter Jesus addressing the very issue of dignity and servanthood. “No shirt, no shoes no service” does not apply to following Christ.
The scene is the Upper Room in the time that Jesus and His disciples are to share the Passover meal. Jesus knows that the hour of His glorification on the cross is close at hand. The recent encounter with the Greek believers (John 12:20) has even prompted the announcement of this. John sets the mood of the gathering:
1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.–John 13:1
You can almost hear the clock ticking here, can you not? In the decreasing time that Jesus has with His disciples, He seems to be cramming them with instruction and keeping them close in order to provide comfort and to be comforted. Jesus could be using this time to talk about anything or to make detailed plans about the weeks to come. Instead, He begins to teach, and as He has shown them over and over, the lesson is not necessarily with words. Jesus…
4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 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 13:4-5
What on earth is Jesus doing here? You will see in a moment that twelve stunned disciples are wondering the same thing.
Is a new miracle about to occur? Is this some kind of ancient ceremony Jesus is reenacting? If there is anything that these men have learned during the past three incredible, mind-bending, faith-building years is that you can expect the unexpected when Jesus is around.
The act that Jesus is performing is not some sort of religious rite, but is more in line with Jewish custom–and plain human decency. He is, quite simply, washing the feet of His guests before a meal is enjoyed.
Think about it for a minute. As referenced above, feet can be, quite simply, nasty. The dining custom in Palestine during Jesus’ day–and in most of the Roman world–was to recline around a table on cushions or mats. No matter how you worked to arrange yourself, you would likely find yourself snuggled up to the tootsies of the diner next to you.
A dinner companion who had been wearing sandals.
In the heat.
Get my drift?
I have teenaged sons and there is nothing more eye-watering than the olfactory alarm that comes with detecting one of them has shed his Easter-ham sized clodhoppers in the back seat on a long road trip. Sandals are worse, for they are basically like a porch for your feet, and all the dirt and grime that can be collected along the way slips right in.
Jesus is treating His disciples to a tremendous courtesy–and one that is reserved for a slave. In an ancient household, foot-washing was the job of the lowest guy on the totem pole, so to speak. A (non-Jewish) slave would be employed to scrub the piggies of you and your guests before the meal. Here, Jesus is literally rolling up His sleeves to do this Himself!
There are two men in the group of disciples that John brings your attention to today. Their responses to what Jesus is doing is very telling.
Jesus “shed his outer garments”, meaning He basically strips down to His undergarments. Using a towel as a covering, He begins to wash the disciples’ feet. You can almost feel the embarrassment growing in the room. Finally, Peter can take no more:
6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”–John 13:6
All this time, the disciples may have been nervously glancing at one another. Jesus–The Master–was performing the duty of a slave! To them!
If anyone in that room was going to say something, it had to be Peter. Almost on cue, he speaks up and demands to know what this is all about.
Jesus tells Peter to bear with Him, but the former fisherman will have none of it.
8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
(Peter is putting his foot down over this nonsense–so to speak.)
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”–John 13:8
The phrasing here is important. Jesus is saying that if Peter refuses His service, then Peter will have no place with Jesus. The image is one of inheritance or blessing–that Peter will not belong with Jesus, nor will Jesus belong with Peter.
Jesus, in the washing of Peter’s and the disciples’ feet, is embodying Paul’s later words in his letter to the Philippians, the “Christ Hymn” of chapter 2:
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.–Philippians 2:8
Jesus, in “emptying himself” is an image of His humiliation in becoming a man and the humiliation that will be found on Calvary–and the glory of the cross. Jesus’s bent back, His tender hands, and His lowly task symbolize a call to share in the glory of this humiliation in service to the Father and to one another.
The words of contemporary Christian artist Michael Card again bring this to the fore in his moving song, “The Basin and the Towel:”
And the space between ourselves sometimes
Is more than the distance between the stars
By the fragile bridge of the Servant's bow
We take up the basin and the towel
And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow
That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel
–Michael Card, The Basin and the Towel”
Here is the full song with music if you would like to check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxsPnNvRrQM
Peter immediately grasps what Jesus is saying and responds in his typical, Peter-like way:
9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”–John 13:9
You can almost imagine a smile forming on Jesus’s face when His rough-hewn friend kicks his sandals across the room and begins to strip! Jesus waves him off:
10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”–John 13:10
But notice whom Jesus is referring to here. Who is in the room with them, watching, participating–but saying nothing?
2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him,–John 13:2
As Jesus works methodically to serve His disciples, Judas goes right along with them–even though he has already made his plans. Jesus could have sent him out on an errand–as He later does when the time for betrayal comes–but He does not.
John makes a special point of including Judas in this narrative and the backward-looking information of the betrayal, for in Judas we see someone who simply goes through the motions of worship, service, and talk of following Christ.
Peter, by contrast, in his boldness as a maverick disciple, bothers to at least question Jesus and in doing so, discovers the Savior’s plan. You may not understand everything that comes with following Christ or with serving in His kingdom, but it behooves you to ask, and then, once you know, to act upon it.
Likewise, you also share in Peter’s embarrassment, do you not? You can be content to worship, to take part in the work of following Christ–as long as He is not allowed into the messy corners of your life. Jesus wants to wash your smelly feet. Like Peter, you want to hide them from Him–hide the addictions with which you struggle or the frustrations of your marriage, your children, or your job.
Jesus will cleanse it all, the dirtier the better. Instead of seeking to hide these things from Him–and from those who love and care for you–your call is to declare like Peter that your place is in Jesus. You are made clean by His work on the cross–feet and all–and the time is now to take up your basin and towel to serve with the One who was glorified in it.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.