More than just “wash each other’s feet”

Posted: February 2, 2011 in Me and God, Me and people, The Bible

So, in my previous blog entry, I introduced the idea that the well known passage of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet may have a deeper message than just wash each other’s feet and serve each other humbly.

This is what the conversation went like (from John 13):

Peter: “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
Jesus:  “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
Peter: “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me
Peter: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus: “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”)

Now, I also shared that there are a few things that seems to be confusing from the passage like:

– Did Peter know what Jesus was talking about when He said ‘after this”?
– Why and what does it mean to ‘have no part’ with Jesus?
– What does it mean to be bathed and wash and clean here?
– Why was Judas not ‘clean’ but the others were?

Furthermore, I suggested that the answer to all of these questions, and a few others, may come from identifying the difference in some of the words –perhaps intentionally chosen by The Holy Spirit, used in this passage in the original Greek and I believe they shed a great amount of light into the topic at hand: what marks the line between ok and not ok when it comes to our failures and sin and our relationship with God?

What about the sins we commit day by day? Do they disqualify us from salvation?

First, let’s take a look to what some of the words may mean:

When we read the word ‘wash in blue, it comes from the Greek niptō, which means to wash whole body; daily regular hand wash.

When we read the word ‘bathed’ in red, it comes from the Greek ‘louō’ which means to bathe (the whole person); wash of a dead person; washing to cleanse blood out of wounds. This word is used in Rev 1:5 “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,”  and 1 Cor 6:11: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

When we read the word ‘completely clean’ in green, it comes from the Greek katharos+holos = Completely, absolutely clean, ceremonially pure; in a levitical sense clean, ethically free from sin and guilt; sincere genuine; blameless, innocent , pure heart. This word is also used in Hebrews 9:22 “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”

If we consider that, Jesus’ response may make a bit more sense. It would read something like:

Jesus: “He who is bathed [meaning washed of their sins by a) His Word and/or looking to the future, b) the atonement of the blood of Jesus at the Cross ] needs only to wash his feet [In the same way that, though we take a bath in the morning, our hands and –in their time, their feet may get dirty, in the same way, though we are clean judicially before God through the cross, we –our minds, get ‘dirty’ as we walk through this sinful world. Therefore, we are in need of daily cleansing through confession and repentance (1 John 1:9) and the cleaning of the mind through reading of The Word of God (Rom 12:1-2) ], but is completely clean [Judicially clear and justified before God; Jesus said at the Cross: “It is finished”!]; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”)

In other words, he who is born again (saved), needs only the “daily dying to self “and  “coming to the Cross” to restore what some call ‘fellowship’. but is already clean before God.

Now, perhaps when Jesus told Peter that he would understand ‘after this’. He didn’t mean at the end of the washing ceremony but at the end of Jesus’ journey, the following day, when He died at the Cross. The Greek word for ‘after this’ is ‘’ met-ah- tow’-tah’, which coincidentally is not used until right after Jesus died in John 19:38

Finally, it is interesting to note that when Jesus told Peter “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me”, the word used for ‘part with me’, is ‘meiromai’ which is also used for ‘portion’, ‘inheritance’ or ‘part’ of salvation as seen in Revelation 20:6

Perhaps one of the messages Jesus was giving to the disciples when He said: “you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you”, was more than just physically wash each other feet but something in the lines of “help each other to stay washed and clean day by day” by the mutual confession of sins, prayer, accountability and sharing of His Word. (see also: Galatians 6:1-2, Ephesians 5:25-27, James 5:16, )

I don’t know how much of the many arguments about Eternal Security does this solve; make your own conclusion. What I do know is that all this is congruent with the idea that God’s grace, mercy and love goes beyond I could ever imagine or understand, and that makes me want to live in a way that pleases Him and be a better fellow Christian brother to others.

  1. Nancy Crompton says:

    I came to this passage via the story of Abigail. I admired her wisdom and David admired it greatly as well because it kept him from making a big mistake of shedding blood and avenging himself. It was her responce to David’s messengers to the proposal of marriage that caught my attention. “Here is your maidservant ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master’s servants.” Here she was, a woman to become a bride of the annointed king and she is talk about washing the feet of servants. I realized that it was a picture of the Bride of Christ, all of us servants of the Lord and we are to wash each other’s feet and then went to the example that Jesus set for us. Understanding what Jesus means by washing feet is very important in understanding what we, the followers of Christ are supposed to be doing for each other. It has been my experience that this kind of activity is missing in the church. It is dirty, intimate business and requires so much humility on all sides, giving and receiving; and oh so much love.

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