Bible insights from your friends at La Jolla Lutheran Church

John 13: Washing one another's feet

(If you want to print this Bible Study, try our PDF version

On the night before he was betrayed, Jesus asked his disciples to remember him through the sacrificial gift of bread and wine. (Luke 22:19)  At this last gathering with his disciples, he also did something equally amazing; he washed their feet.  It is this act that John, in his gospel, gives special attention.  How did Jesus want the disciples (and us) to remember this act?


Monday          John 13:1 (NRSV)
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 

For Jesus, washing the feet of the disciples is an act of love.  Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus professes and demonstrates his profound love for his friends, his disciples, and for us.  In Jesus’ time the washing of feet was not uncommon among friends and family members.  Jesus was saying to the disciples, “you are special,” beloved like friends and family. 

What would be the equivalent today of washing the feet of others?

How do you express your love to those persons important to you?  

Tuesday          John 13:2 (NRSV)
The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. …

Jesus knew that Judas would betray him unto death, yet he washed the feet of Judas with the same love that he had for the other disciples.  For Jesus, washing Judas’ feet was an act of conciliation.  Though Judas would flee after being identified by Jesus as the betrayer (13:21-30), Jesus did not give up on Judas – as he does not give up on any of us. 

Would you have washed Judas’ feet, knowing what Jesus knew?

How have you sought to be conciliatory to someone who has betrayed you?

Wednesday                John 13:2-4 (NRSV)
. . . And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

For Jesus, washing the feet of the disciples was an act of obedience and an act of humility.   God put the care of the disciples (and the care of all things) into Jesus’ hands.  And stripped of his outer robe, he would have stood before the disciples as a common servant with only his hands, a basin of water, and a towel to fulfill God’s will. 

What has God put into your hands for special caring? 

What do you bring to that task?

Thursday       John 13:5 (NRSV)
Then he poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

For Jesus, washing the feet of the disciples was a practical act.   Even though Jesus was the Son of God and about to go to the Father, he was attentive to the ordinary needs of his friends and his household.  The disciples’ feet needed washing; someone needed to do it.  Why not Jesus? 

Are there tasks around the house (or around your workplace or around the church) that you do not like to take on? 

Why not you? 

Friday             John 13:6-11 (NRSV)
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.  And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus performs many signs.  Jesus offers the disciples one more revelation, one more glimpse, of the relationship that he will have with them (and with us) after his death and resurrection.  For Jesus, washing the feet of the disciples is a symbolic and prophetic act, an act that reveals God’s plan and God’s glory.

What does Jesus promise the disciples (and us)?  

Think of something you have done for others recently.  What inspired you?

Saturday        John 13:12-17 (NRSV)
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?  You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you as an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

For Jesus, washing the feet of the disciples is, finally, an act of teaching and instruction for the journey ahead.  Do “as” Jesus did for the disciples (and does for us).  That might not be foot-washing; it should be whatever needs to be done, that can be done in love and (if necessary) as conciliation, that is done as obedience to God and in humility to those being served, and that is done to reveal and glorify God in the world.  Just “do it,” and you will be blessed!

What have you done recently “as” Jesus has done for you? 

What do you do well, and what do you need to work on – doing what needs to be done, doing it in love, doing it in conciliation, doing it obediently, doing it humbly, doing it to reveal and glorify God? 

God, thank you for helping us understand your will and your way through the example of Jesus.   Amen