Washing Each Other Clean by Lenny Cacchio


The Middle East by reason of climate and culture is a dusty place. In Jesus’ day there was little in the way of paved roads, and consequently the feet of the sandal-wearing populous would pick up the common grime of the roads as they walked through life.   


In addition to the dust that one would normally encounter walking, other sources of filth of a less savory kind were also in the streets of that day’s Jerusalem. Livestock was abundant, given the contemporary need for transportation, economic necessity, and sacrifice.  Not only would the streets of Jerusalem be covered in dust and mud, Jerusalem would be awash in a mixture of dung and urine.  In a culture where the common footwear was the sandal, imagine how one’s feet would look and smell after a trek through the streets. 


Then imagine this in the context of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet in John 13.


Scholars remind us that the job of washing a houseguest’s feet was a task assigned to the lowest of servants.  Washing another’s feet in our world might be an act of humility, but in those days, it was not only humbling; it could be downright nasty.


Yet Jesus, the great Teacher and Rabbi, took on the role of servant and in a complete act of humility performed a service that none of the disciples would condescend to do.  He washed their feet.  He washed away the filth and grime of the most disgusting sort that clung to them on their daily walk.


John’s gospel bursts with buried pearls of wisdom that often can be found only through some digging.  This passage bursts with such pearls.  Jesus takes on the form of a servant, and he, the one who emptied himself of his divinity, took on the lowliest of chores.  Not one of the disciples was willing to take that step.  At the very time Jesus was humbling himself, the disciples were apparently debating who would be the greatest in the Kingdom (Luke 22:24-30).


In addition to that, Jesus was showing us that we need to go to him daily in order to be cleansed of the filth that our feet pick up on our normal walk through life.  At the same time he encourages us when he says that “he who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10).  While we might pick up some filth of the world each day, Jesus is there to wash it from us, and even though our feet may be soiled, he still considers us clean.


And he tells us something else.  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (Verse 15)  This makes foot washing into something more than a pious ritual.  It means that we in fact are our brother’s keeper.  If our brother is soiled in his daily walk, our job is to go to our brother and get him the help he needs, and his job is to help us in the same way.


That’s a huge responsibility.  A foot washing attitude is miles more than a mere attitude of service.  It is the duty we owe each other as we struggle and stride toward the kingdom.  “Bear one another’s burdens,” wrote Paul (Galatians 6:2).  That’s what he was talking about.


Lenny C.