As Holy Week begins I’ve done a lot of thinking about how Jesus showed radical love to his disciples during his final hours. How he symbolized the soul-cleaning he was about to accomplish on the cross. And yet he was incredibly practical too, shocking his friends by doing a slavish and unclean task. He was teaching them–and me–how to love.
Jesus does the unthinkable.
He picks up a towel, ties it around his waist, and pours water into a basin. Then, he approaches his friends.
He takes their stinky, dirt-encrusted, calloused feet in his own hands—hands that within hours would show their love again by having Roman nails driven into them—and washes those feet clean. He wipes away the grime and makes them spotless, symbolizing what the cross will soon accomplish not just for their bodies, but their very souls.
To appreciate Peter’s shock and horror at this scenario, we must realize this foot washing was the task of a slave. Not just any slave, but it was typically reserved for Gentile slaves. Someone the Jews would have seen as being fundamentally and ceremonial unclean. And Jesus takes on this unclean role to show us how we are to love each other. We are to serve each other as Christ demonstrated by reaching down and bathing dusty dirty feet in clean water. It is a metaphor for how we are to live out Christ-love.