When the apostles were following Jesus to the upper room to share the Passover meal together, Jesus noticed that there was no one to wash their feet. This custom was a practical necessity because of the dusty roads. No one had inside plumbing in those days and baths were normally taken in a common environment. Afterward they would walk home in sandals (at best) and their feet would be dirty from the walk. If the family was rich enough, they had domestic help that would bring a bowl of water and wash off the feet of each family member before they sat down to eat together. I would assume that family members would do this for each other if they did not have servants. When Jesus noticed that no one had made provision for this need, John 13:12f, tells us that he took the basin of water and wrapped a towel around his waist and proceeded to wash each of the disciples’ feet. When he was through he asked them if they knew why he did that. Actually he asked, “do you understand what I have done to you?”

As a Seminary student in 1982, I visited a church that practiced this ritual as a church ordinance. I had my feet washed by a member of the congregation and I must tell you that it’s an extremely humbling experience. It created an atmosphere in which competitive energy as well as intellectual arrogance dissipated into thin air. It brought to my mind a simple episode in my life right after I became a Christian in 1978. One of the oldest men in our small church in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, John Boffa, came to me as I sat with my family at one of the many potluck dinners we used to enjoy, and said, “let me get your some more.” He brought me coffee and a piece of apple pie. The atmosphere I felt when having my feet washed was exactly the atmosphere of old Mr. John Boffa serving me at that table.

Jesus went on to answer his own question to His disciples. He said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…” I don’t believe that Jesus’ example of washing feet is something that should be reduced to a ritual but is something that should motivate our lives. The Greek word for example is “typos.” We get our word “type” from that. It means, model, or even prototype. I often think of it as the letters of the alphabet above the black board in early elementary grades. When the children are learning to write they can look up at these “examples” at any time. Jesus gave us an example of how to live our lives. We should look up at our example daily. This is especially true in our family lives. Families that learn how to serve each other are truly families with healthy, happy, and wholesome atmospheres in which Christ like qualities can grow and flourish.