Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ After he had washed their feet had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’
In reading today’s Scripture text it is clear that something is going on at a deeper level than just washing dirty feet. After all, Jesus says to His disciples, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand”.
The disciples’ later understanding will reveal that this foot washing is, at a deeper level, a picture of the cleansing from sin that Jesus will accomplish by His death and resurrection. Jesus will cleanse us from all moral guilt. All our sins will be washed away and forgiven, even those sins we couldn’t imagine ever admitting to anyone. “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). But if we, like Peter, imagine that we can get by without Jesus washing us, we cannot be saved. We cannot be brought close to the Father’s heart.
Notice the deeper meaning in the text as Jesus carefully distinguishes between a once-for-all-cleansing bath, and the later need for washing some part of the body. This would have been common in Jesus’ day as people would wash at the public baths, but on their way home their feet would become soiled. This would mean that they needed only a foot washing, rather than to bathe all over again.
So also, when we first come to Jesus in faith, He bathes and cleanses us completely from all sin, and gives us eternal life. The “foot washing” is for daily sin, as it restores any broken fellowship with him. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. As we walk through the world we often get dirty and are in need of Jesus’ daily cleansing. The promise stands sure: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Being daily cleansed by Jesus from any sin that might arise, we can live close to the Father’s heart.
What are there in Jesus’ words today to know; to feel; to do?