About the act of washing the feet

Today I received a comment that says

Priest Vasile Filat, I read very attentively the articles published on this site. I have a question: Has the act of “washing the feet” from the evening of the “Last Supper” be practiced nowadays too? There will be useful an article on this topic. Thank you.

Washing the feet was a necessity in the evening of the Last Supper

Here is how the Bible relates the context when the Lord Jesus washed His disciples feet:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (The Gospel of John 13:1–5)(NASB)

It is well known that people who live in Orient use to have their meal sitting on the floor. This custom continues until nowadays and every time I went to Asian countries to preach and to teach the Word of God there, I had almost all my meals sitting on the floor. When you sit on the floor, your feet are very close to food, that’s why it is a sign of common sense to wash your feet before eating. But, there is always a person in a lower postion that is ready to wash others’ feet as a sign of respect for guests and for elder persons. So, the washing of feet is a necessity, but it is also a way to express respect and submission to other person. When the Lord Jesus was in the house of Simon and a sinful woman came to repent, Jesus reproached Simon for lack of respect he had showed:

Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (The Gospel of Luke 7:44)(NASB)

The discples didn’t show submission at the Last Supper

The way how the events took place that evening shows that disciples were very concerned about the position they were going to have in the team, than to serve each other and the Lord Jesus. There were the basin and the towel but no one came to Jesus or to anyone else to wash the feet. Everyone was waiting for others to “get down” to the position of washing others’ feet. That’s why, Jesus chose to teach them a lesson and he used this need of washing the feet before the supper. Here is what the Bible relates further on:

So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” (The Gospel of John 13:6)(NASB)

Simon Peter was reproved and he understood the message because he was waiting for someone else, who was in a lower position to wash his feet. Jesus came to wash his feet firstly, because He was waitng for Peter to be the one to do it and to show an attitude of submission and care about others.

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter” (John 13:7)(NASB)

The Savior came to wash their feet not only to fulfill that need, but He wanted to teach them something. That’s why He told Peter he was going to understand later:

Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” (The Gospel of John 13:8)(NASB)

The Lord Jesus washed the disciples feet to wash a wrong attitude from their hearts

Peter, who admitted publicly that Jesus Christ is the Son of God was very ashamed and reproved and he understood that Jesus humiliated himself because He came to wash his feet. The Lord Jesus told Peter that He had to wash not only feet. He had to wash a wrong attitude from his heart and from the hearts of all apostles. We can enter the Kingdom of God with unwashed feet but we can’t do it with our hearts full of pride and arrogance. Peter understood and he continued the discussion:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (The Gospel of John 13:9–10)(NASB)

The washing of the feet was an example to show an attttude

The Scripture continues:

So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (they didn’t do this at the Supper) For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (The Gospel of John 13:12–17)(NASB)

The essence of the lesson taught by Jesus was that each of the disciples shouldn’t consider himself so great, so that he might wait for others to serve him, but each of them should be always ready to serve others. This was the essence of his example and this is the attitude God wants us to learn and to practice in our lives. After that, the Lord Jesus had the Supper with His disciples and He let the wine and the bread be a sign of the covenant we made with Him. The washing of the feet was not mentioned as a part of the covenant.

Important conclusions:

  • The washing of the feet was a necessity of that time, and it is not a necessity in our context, when we have our meals sitting on chairs around the table.

  • The Lord Jesus washed the disciples’ feet to reprove them and to teach them have an attitude of serving each other.

  • The washing of the feet is not a part of the New Covenant as the wine and the bread are and there is no commandment let by Jesus to Chirst to practice the washing of the feet before the Lord’s Supper.

  • It is not a violation of God’s Word when one practices the washing of the feet before the Lord’s Supper becasue there is no interdiction in regard to this.

  • It is a violation of God’s Word to impose the washing of feet as a compulsory condition for the salvation of the soul.

  • It is wrong when Christians separate because of practicing or not the washing of feet before the Lord’s Supper.

May God help us fulfill the essence of this example and to show a beautiful attitude towards our brothers and sisters in faith, being ready to serve them with dedication.

Translated by Felicia Djugostran