Farewell Discourse of Jesus – I (Wash One Another’s Feet)

The chapters John 13-17, often referred to as the farewell discourse of Jesus, are among the most inspiring and empowering words of the scripture. It is a deep and penetrating passage. It is also the longest discourse of Jesus.

Who Is the Greatest?

In John 13, we see Jesus washing the feet of disciples. In Jewish society, washing of feet had a practical purpose – to clean the feet after returning from dusty roads. Typically the least of slaves do the washing of feet. It is the most degrading of jobs. Peter’s reaction explains how degrading it is. This action of Jesus seems to be on the backdrop of what is recorded by Luke in Luke 22:24-27:

“A dispute also arose among them (disciples), as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he (Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Jesus is, therefore, saying that if you are a leader don’t go for the glory but for servanthood – lowly humble servanthood. It is not natural for us humans to be humble when in power. So, we have some important lessons here.

An Acted Out Parable

The dialogue between Jesus and disciples as recorded in John 13: 3-20 makes it clear that it is an acted parable, not only about humility in serving but has a deeper meaning. For example, when Jesus say: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” (v8).

  • John 13:3-4 “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.”

Though Jesus came into this world in an incarnate state (God becoming man). He laid aside His deity and took the role of a slave. This is a picture of Philippians 2:6-8

Philippians 2: 6-8 “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

  • John 13:5 “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 …”

Within a few hours, Jesus would pour out his blood in death. This is a picture of the act of applying Christ’s cleansing blood to human hearts. That is why Jesus says in v8: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me”. Without having the feet washed, cannot have fellowship with him.

  • v10: Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean ..”

When we are converted, we are ‘born-again’ into the family of God. Once converted, we need not be converted again and again. When we sin, we do not have to be born-again all over again. Only the sin has to be confessed, cleansed and forsaken.

True spirituality in the bible is not just some grand ideas in the mind – it is often physical, material, practical. It is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. How we use time, money, how we treat people, etc.

Why did Jesus rebuke Peter?

When Peter objected to his feet being washed by Jesus, he was rebuked by Jesus – the cleaning of the feet symbolized cleaning of sins by his blood and he was setting an example to be humble. Also, Jesus could be rebuking Peter’s assumption that it is beneath a leader to do such a lowly job. After all, the disciples are going to be the leaders. So they cannot be having such an attitude on what it means to be a leader.

The Right Source of Security and Confidence to be Humble

We often find ourselves finding our identity in money, profession, status, etc. It is difficult to be humble if we are either insecure or prideful about these things. This is what makes relationships in the body of Christ so difficult. This may well be the root of all conflicts.

John 13:12-13 “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.”

John 13:3 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

Jesus was so secure and confident of his identity and relationship with the Father. We too should find our identity and confidence in the right source.

Revelation 3:12 “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name”

So here is the right source of identity/security that gives us the confidence to be humble. Identity is relational:

  • We are sons/daughters of God – Name of God is written on each of us
  • We are brothers and sisters of one another in the church (new Jerusalem)
  • The corporate bride of Christ – we take the name of the bridegroom

Did Jesus wash the feet of Judas also?

He certainly did! Jesus’ love seeks to reach even the traitor. He loved even those unworthy. Jesus treated Judas just like others and did not discriminate, even though Jesus knew full well what Judas was up to (v11, v21-27). Some people betray us and we have to deal with that. Jesus showed how to deal with that.

Wash One Another’s feet!

We must notice that Jesus did not ask to wash his feet (which would be a lot easier to do), but to “wash one another’s feet”.

In the church (followers of Jesus), everyone is important and required. No one is so senior or spiritual that they have nothing to receive from others. No one is small/young that they have nothing to contribute to others. One should not get the idea that she/he is there to give and others are there to listen/receive. That is not the model of the church. But that is what numerous “one another” statements are all about.

Jesus alone can cleanse us, but we can minister that cleansing – for example, when a person corrects another and the person receives the correction. That is how we express our love for one another. We should not have the attitude of accepting cleansing/correction from Christ, but not from brothers and sisters. On the other hand, when we minister one another, we should wash the feet from a position of humility – not pour bucket loads of water! We ought to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

In the moment of selfless love, humility, and servanthood, imperfect people could be in a perfect relationship, in some measure.

A New Commandment? Setting the bar on ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’?

John 13:34-35 “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.”

The commandment in Leviticus 19:18 is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 22: 37-40

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

To love others as yourself may be seen as treating others as equal, but Jesus made himself a servant of all. He kept himself below us and gave his life up for us. This is a higher degree of love. Jesus has set the bar high.

True Criteria/Mark of Christian Discipleship?

John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The criteria given by Jesus to be called his disciples is not religious criteria like reciting a belief/doctrine, going through a ritual, who we pray to, church attendance, fasting, reading the Bible, theological understanding, etc – not even personal perfection. Jesus gave us relational criteria instead. We know we are Christians by our love to one another! Perhaps because such love as Jesus loved is possible only with Christ in us, as a fruit of the Spirit.

It is easier to love (or believe that we love) those far away but difficult to love those close by. This is the greatest challenge before the church.

We, the called out people are called for a special relationship with one another. It is by that relationship that the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.




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