It was the night before His crucifixion, somewhere in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. Jesus was spending his last night with His friends, the twelve disciples He'd poured into for three years. Luke tells us He wanted to show them the full extent of His love. Notice, He didn't preach a sermon or quote a Bible verse. Instead, while they were arguing about who among them was the greatest, He slipped away and got what he needed to wash their feet, a basin and a towel. In those days, that was the task of a slave.
Nothing was more filthy than feet in those days, because nothing was more filthy than the streets people walked on. No paved roads, no sanitary sewer systems, no bathrooms, and no one walked behind their animals with a pooper-scooper. On a dry day you’d have 1 or 2 inches of dust; on a rainy day you’d have 2-4 inches of muck, the same stuff we find in our horse barns around the Bluegrass.
So no one volunteered to do the foot washing, because no one was willing to humble himself to that level. No one but Jesus. There’s no evidence anywhere in ancient literature of a rabbi stooping to wash his disciples feet. None. Jesus was the first; perhaps the last. His disciples were stunned to say the least. Who of us would feel comfortable having the one person in the world whom we most respect come over to our house and wash our feet? Peter was aghast. We would be too. Jesus showed them the extent of His love in a way His friends would never forget. Ever.
How do you treat your friends? You're aware that they're a gift, aren't you? This story reminds me of some things that characterize great friends. Allow me to share a short list.
1. Loyalty. “Until the very end, he loved them.” A true friend will never give up on us, despite our flaws. They don’t peace out when things get messy. There was no quit in Jesus' love. He even allowed Judas to sit at his side that night. Incredible. To love someone who's not loyal to you is perhaps the deepest kind of love.
2. Action. People who say they love each other prove it with their actions. The word for "love" in the text is agape. With agape love, you don’t fall in love, you choose to love. It’s not fickle or temporary. It’s not a roller coaster; it’s a railroad track. It’s not determined by emotion, but by will. It’s love with work boots on. Paul uses this word in Ephesians 5 when he talks about love between a husband and wife.
3. Authenticity. We can be ourselves with a true friend. Isn't that wonderful? When these guys entered the house that night, they ALL walked right past the water jar and basin. Essentially, they were saying, “I don’t do feet. That’s someone else’s job.” They were all about image management, something true friends could care less about. C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another, “What? You too?!” Authenticity is essential for true friendships.
4. Forgiveness...in advance. I've always believed the best time to forgive someone is BEFORE they hurt me. You know why? Because that's how my heavenly Father loves me...and you.
5. Honesty. Jesus was always honest with his friends, even when it hurt. Solomon said, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." Peter didn't want Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus basically said, "Stick out your feet, or walk out the door. Your choice.” True friends tell us the truth. They’ll level with us when no one else will. Some people erroneously define friendship as sort of blind trust---always believe the best about someone, always dispense praise. In my opinion, that’s not a friend; that’s an idolator. A good friend KNOWS we’re not perfect and they love us enough to say so. They’re brutally honest. If we’re aware and we care, we’ll share.
Thanks for staying with me; now let me wrap this up. Something I wonder about from this text is this: Did Jesus get HIS feet washed that night, or did He have to do it Himself? I’d like to think that after this lesson in humility and servanthood, all the disciples gathered around Him and took turns washing His feet. And I’d like to think they all made a personal pledge that, to their dying day, that they would never forget (and always practice) what they learned that night in that room--which is...that when we serve others, we are most like Jesus.
We’ll know when we get to heaven how this experience impacted their lives, but in the meantime the million-dollar question is this, “How will it impact ours?”