The concepts found in this lesson may challenge you to think about God's perspectives in ways you too rarely consider. This lesson contains two challenges. (1) Think without fear in the realization that such thought produces a courageous faith built on understanding. (2) Jesus valued people so much that he would knowingly wash the feet of the person he knew would betray him. Jesus washed Judas' feet intentionally, not accidentally.
Let's begin with a perspective on foot washing as a first century custom. This practical, social custom in the middle east region was not [is not] confined to the first century. It was and is an expression of hospitality. In Jesus' lifetime, foot washing was truly a practical expression of humble hospitality. When a host received a guest, the guest was provided with a basin and water to wash his/her own feet, or the host washed the guest's feet, or [in wealthy circumstances] a slave brought water and washed the guest's feet.
The Jew who washed feet had two considerations. (1) Perhaps the sandaled or bare feet had contacted something ceremonially unclean. Thus, washing defiled feet would make the Jewish washer unknowingly defiled. He/she in ignorance later might do something spiritually inappropriate. (2) Washing feet was an undesirable task. Typically, the lesser washed the feet of the greater. It was easy to consider that task "beneath me." "Why should I do a slave's task?"
Just as in some countries today [such as homes in Canada], a person who entered a home took off his/her shoes and left them near the door. Two things made this custom practical. (1) The traveler did not "track" dirt into the home. There was/is an effort to separate the dirt of outdoors from the home's cleanliness. (2) In that time and geography, one not could separate self from the weariness of the journey and rest his/her feet. Remember, there were no manufactured shoes--thus boots and shoes as we know them were non-existent. There were no socks or hosiery. Also remember, traveled ways were often rough, producing foot wounds or bruises. Many sandaled people walked, and some traveled barefooted. Clean feet after a difficult journey were [and are!] quite refreshing!
Jesus knew his death was near. After supper, he took off his robe and wrapped a towel around his waist. Instead of looking like a highly respected teacher, he looked like a slave! He approached his task as a slave approached it--he prepared to wash feet, then he began to wash and dry his disciples feet. He did something that just was not done! The disciples must have viewed Jesus' act with horror--Jesus washing their feet was absolutely inappropriate! Peter was so embarrassed by the situation that he attempted to keep Jesus from washing his feet!
In this act, Jesus incredibly combined two concepts of purity to illustrate his lesson powerfully. The common concept of purity in ancient Israel was primarily ceremonial purity. Ceremonial purity stressed the act and outer cleanliness. Thus one did the correct act at the correct occasion in the correct way to produce purity [like not violating Sabbath law in Matthew 12:2 or hand washing traditions in Matthew 15:2]. Jesus stressed moral and ethical purity. Right acts had to come from right motives. If one is pure inwardly, he/she will do what is pure outwardly. Consider Matthew 5:27-48 and 23:1-31 for contrasts and examples. In this act Jesus acknowledged the value of outward cleanliness based on the humility generated by love (see John 13:31-35).
In this act, Jesus emphasized to his disciples, after his entire ministry, the importance of looking at self and at others in an entirely different way. We might ask, "How could Judas do what he did when Jesus did what he did?" Two realities are called to your attention. (1) Greed was and continues to be a powerful motive in human behavior. (2) Jesus was kind to Judas to the end granting Judas every reason to turn away from his greed. Jesus was not the justifying reason for Judas' decision and behavior. Judas own reasoning was the justification for his decision and behavior. Judas yielded to his weakness in spite of Jesus' kindness.
Consider some lessons we need to note. (1) Following Jesus will require that we surrender to people. Sometimes it would be easier to hate some of those people than surrender to them, yet we surrender even when we know what they are and what they will do. (2) Genuine acts of humility are more the product of the person's motive than of his/her act(s). A person can perform a humble act with a prideful motive. However, prideful motives never result in genuine humility. (3) Genuine acts of humility respect people. Being humble before God involves being humble with people. (4) The attitude as well as the act purifies us [makes us clean]. We are self-deceived if we think we are pure when we are arrogant. (5) If Jesus was not ashamed of being humble, neither should we be ashamed to be humble. We will never be more important than he was [is]. (6) If we want to act like Jesus we should develop the thoughts and attitudes of Jesus. Consider John 14:28 in His devotion to the Father.
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 13
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