Jesus, the evening he was betrayed, “poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:5).
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. `Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them…. `Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet’ ” (vs. 12, 14).
The Bible was written in a specific culture and historical time. Its instructions are sometimes phrased with specific customs that are not always understood in modern times.
When it comes to creating a living legacy of leadership, based upon the most sound principles that will allow one in leadership and authority to be a true value to those they lead, understanding the culture and principles of “Wash one another’s feet” is one of the best lessons we can learn.
In the days of early culture, cities and civilization, modern conveniences of sewers, showers and sinks inside a home or building were not prevalent like they are today.
Before cities and villages had running water and sewer disposal from within the home, food waste, personal refuse and other types of garbage were thrown out into the streets and alley ways. Cultural hierarchy was very strong and people with the least amount of skill sets would be pig feeders, (considered the lowest of the low of all jobs to do) and other servants that would come along in the city to clean and remove the waste.
It was life with dusty roads and open-toed sandals. (If one even had sandals.) When you were travelling (walking) through a city, not only would you be walking through the dust and dirt, but there was good potential that you would also be exposed to (and maybe walk through) the waste in the streets.
In daily life, feet often became dirty, and it was the job of the lowest servants to wash the guests’ feet before a guest entered a home. Consider all the contamination that would be present on the feet of guests by the time they came to a home. The servants’ job was to cleanse the feet before entering.
There are two biblical customs that are present when washing the feet. It is important to understand what these are in order to see the significance of Jesus’ washing others feet and then instructing us to do the same.
The first part of this leadership insight from biblical customs comes from the significance of water. It is well known that water is cleansing, healing, it is so powerful that it can be used as a tool. Water is life sustaining. Humans are ¾ water. We need to replenish it daily for optimal vitality of living. Water is nurturing. Water sustains us.
The second part of this custom has to do with the significance and figure of speech the feet represent. In eastern culture, and through out the bible, the usage of the word ‘Feet’ and ‘Foot’ are more than just literal. Spiritually speaking, they represent our thinking and our thoughts.
Consider this: have you ever worn a pair of shoes that were too tight? How did it make you feel? How was your attitude? For most people in this example, the too tight shoes made a grumpy attitude surface. Your feet hurt. You become fatigued, irritated. It’s uncomfortable to walk. You don’t want to move when your shoes and feet hurt.
Even though it may not be a conscious thought process at first, your subconscious and the rest of your body are aware that your shoes are too tight. Your body may become off balance when you move because you try to compensate your movements with your muscles – and then they end up hurting too. It’s a domino effect.
A simple decision to wear shoes too tight can effect your whole day, how you think, feel, act and it can have an impact on what you do, what you don’t do – and even how you treat others.
Now consider this: how would you feel if you trudged all day in bare feet or open toed sandals knowing that you were potentially walking through dung, refuse, molding, decaying food waste- etc.
Would you be joyful about that? Would your heart be light and happy? Would you feel clean? Would you want to walk into someone’s home that way- or would you want to remove that grunge? If you allowed that waste to remain on your feet- how would you personally feel? Would you be self conscious? How would this impact your thoughts, actions, attitudes each day?
What if you had a small cut or sore on your foot and you left that refuse remain on your feet? It could get infected and then effect your health and wellbeing in other ways.
So, the significance first and foremost in this part of learning about leadership through the action of “Washing Others Feet” ties up here: Our feet and our walk- ties directly into our thoughts and actions. Are your feet clean? Is your walk on the right road? Do you walk with dung attached to your thoughts- or have they been cleansed?
Leadership based upon the biblical principle of watching, guarding, washing, and protecting our feet (our thoughts) is a very sound one.
In part 2 we’ll look at why it was such significance that Jesus washed others feet and how does this apply to us today.
May your day be filled with blessings,