John 13:3-5, 12-17 (CEB)

Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.

12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.


The most important lessons we teach are through the examples we set.

In ancient Israel, footwashing was a necessary and common practice. Shoes, when they were worn at all, were open sandals. Feet got dusty and dirty. So whenever someone entered your home, it was good hospitality to offer your guest a basin of water to wash their feet. Or, if you were wealthy and had slaves, you might order them to wash your guests’ feet instead.

There was, however, one exception. If you had a fellow Israelite as a slave in your house, you could not ask them to wash feet – not even your own. It was seen as too degrading a job for one of your own people. So when Jesus does this, he is not only humbling himself. One might say he’s humiliating himself.

Jesus says, “servants are not greater than their master,” and “as I have done, so you must also do.” Well, this is awkward. Because if we’re honest, we’d rather do anything in the world. “We’ll serve,” we say, “but not like that.”

Jesus sets us a powerful example, even if it’s one we’d rather ignore. But we shouldn’t pretend that we’re greater than him. It’s good for us to know these things, but so much better when we do them!

For Pondering & Prayer

When have you been asked to serve in a very humbling way? What was that experience like? Would you repeat it?

Jesus cautions that if we fail to follow his example, we’ve placed ourselves above him. What’s something God may be calling you to do for someone else today that you perceive is “beneath” you?