The practice of foot-washing makes many people uncomfortable, but it is supposed to. While it can be a powerful time in a church service, it is also a humbling experience. Only a small number of Christians treat foot-washing as a Sacrament. I belong to a denomination that lists foot-washing with The Lord's Supper and Baptism. One reason why most Christians do not make it a Sacrament is that the practice is only found in one place in the New Testament (John 13). Another reason, and it is a big reason, is because of fear that foot-washing will become familiar and lose its meaning. In John 13, Jesus institutes the practice of foot-washing, but He instructed us to do so much more. John Calvin said, "Christ does not here enjoin an annual ceremony, but bids us be ready, throughout our whole life, to wash the feet of our brethren and neighbors" (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, vol. ii, trans. by The Rev. William Pringle).
Jesus was not giving the church something to pull out of the closet once in a while, dust off, and use. If this is what we do, we have missed the point of the foot-washing narrative altogether. There is nothing wrong with treating foot-washing as a Sacrament and encountering Christ through this act of serving. However, if we do this but walk by people in need, then we are not being obedient to Christ. In Jesus' day, foot-washing was a significant need and was reserved for the lowest person in the house, and that would have never been a Jewish man. Jesus and His disciples have come in, sat at the table, and made it through at least a portion of the meal (John 13:2-4). Jesus has given His followers time to obey His teachings and serve others, but none of them did. So, Jesus did! Foreshadowing the cleansing that would soon come by way of the Cross (John 13:7), Jesus took on the role of a servant and washed their feet. Jesus recognized a significant need, and He met it. Following His powerful example, He said, “If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15 NASB).
Foot-washing is about serving others. While this powerful experience can be substantial, the physical act of washing someone’s feet is not necessary today. We all have showers and wear socks and shoes, among other things. However, we can take Jesus’ example of service and apply it all over. If all we do is wash feet in church once in a while, we miss what Jesus was teaching. There are people in need everywhere, including in our churches, and we do them a great disservice by only washing their feet but not helping them in the other areas of their life. I am not saying that we should not have foot-washing services; we certainly should. But we must be faithful to what Jesus was teaching us, and sometimes feeding someone or listening to someone is what they need most of all. This is especially true for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus went on to say, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35 NASB). We can make a difference by following Jesus’ example of recognizing needs and solving them. Don’t walk by like it is not your problem; serve one another.
Serving In Christ,
Pastor Josh May
Vidalia Church of God