THE LAST SUPPER: STINKY FEET
The three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – are in agreement on certain aspects of The Last Supper. Only John’s gospel discusses the intimate details of the washing of the feet. But then the writer was John, “the one whom The Lord loved.” Who else was more fitting to describe this scene with such delicate details, almost like a love letter.
This was a private party, an honored feast. The Host only invited twelve men. It was possible that the disciples argued as to who would sit where at this feast but I think Jesus had a hand in placing them for two reasons. First, I think Jesus wanted John next to Him on one side because He could trust John with the secret that Judas was the betrayer ( verses 25-26). I think Jesus wanted Judas near – or next – to Him so that He could give him the best piece of bread. The host of the Passover feast, as a gesture of friendship, will offer the guest of honor the best part of the bread dipped into the sauce of crushed fruit and wine. Matthew 26: 25 relates how Judas tries to bluff and innocently declare that he is not the betrayer; but Jesus knew. Yet Jesus knew that all was part of the Father’s plan. Judas’ betrayal was an essential part of that plan. Therefore, he was an honored guest, a “friend.” Jesus does not feel bitterness for Judas but, instead, (v.21) He is grieved in His spirit for him. This was even more an act of utter humility and absolute surrender to the Father. In the presence of this Holy Servant the apostles have been arguing about greatness. It is time for Jesus to put an end to this bickering.
The stage is completely set. The owner of the Upper Room was a relative of one of the apostles. He would have made certain that food was served and then would have left. The meal was so private that, apparently, not even the designated lowest servant who cleaned the feet was present. If he had been there, he would have performed the traditional task of washing their feet as soon as they entered, especially for a formal meal like this one. One of the disciples would have to volunteer for that lowly task. Yet as soon as he volunteered to at least wash Jesus’ feet, he now acknowledged he was low man in the pecking order. So much for the petty feud as to who was the greatest of them! Therefore, it would seem that they ate their meal with dirty feet. Better dirty feet than relinquishing their bid for greatness!
Remember that many people traveled without shoes, often without sandals. In addition, people did not sit at a meal, they reclined, leaning on pillows, with their feet extended from the table – stinky, dirty feet right under the other’s nose… unless someone cleaned them. Who would stoop to this lowly task? One Who knew that a lesson needed not just to be spoken about to be remembered, but needed to be lived out before their very eyes.
No one asked Jesus to wash their dirty feet. Luke 7: 40-50 relates the story of Jesus Himself having been denied this act of hospitality by Simon, the Pharisee. He knew how demeaning it was. Take a good look at the men whose feet Jesus was washing that night. There was Judas who would betray Him with a kiss thereby singling Him out to the Jews. There was Peter who, much to his utter shame, would deny Jesus three times in one night. The others would all forsake Him before the evening ended. Yet He loved them and served them in humility and love to the end. He washed every single foot until it was totally clean with a towel with which He was girded. That meant that when He was done washing the dirt off their feet, the dirt was on His garment. Why does that remind me that all my filthy sins were borne by Him on the cross?
DEAR SWEET IMPETUOUS PETER
In John 13: 6 Peter is astounded that the One he reverences, the Son of God, would even think to humble Himself to the role of a servant and wash the dirty feet of an abject sinner like himself. Yet how could Peter object to obeying his Lord? Then Jesus states the facts clearer: you must relinquish your pride on this matter, Peter, or else you and I will not have true fellowship. Then Peter swings to the extreme opposite side – wash all of me! Proud, Peter may be, but he loves his Lord! Love always wins out.
It is interesting to read of the manifestation of the strong impact this servanthood lesson had in Peter’s life. Listen to how explicitly Peter speaks of humility in the verse below and the example he uses to describe how Jesus’ actions were indeed “ imprinted in his mind and engraved in his heart “ ( Hebrews 8:10):
Clothe (apron) yourselves, all of you, with humility [as the garb of a servant,]
– 1 Peter 5:5 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
Apron (another name for towel) yourselves with humility as a servant. All those decades later Peter remembered that scene that Jesus demonstrated that, as He was a servant, so are we to be.
ONCE AGAIN THE SAME LESSON AS BEFORE
12 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. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
– John 13:12-14 New International Version (NIV)
We started this lesson with “who is the greatest?” in Luke 9 by Jesus speaking a teaching. We end it here in John 13 by John dramatizing a teaching to make an indelible impact on the disciples’ minds and hearts. The entire lesson centers on servanthood, greatness and a desire for authority. The danger of this covetousness for power is expressed clearly in Luke 22: 25-27:
25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.
– Luke 22:25-27 New King James Version (NKJV)
Worldly leaders are proud as they “lord it over others” on their way to the top. Benefactor was a title in that society meaning princes, Roman emperors and gods. If a man was supported by a benefactor, he had to recognize their authority over him both privately and publicly. People had to kowtow to those of unscrupulous moral character who acted like gods as they “lorded” it over others. Conversely, among Christians the leader is the one who serves best. Greatness and servanthood go hand in hand for a Christian.
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
– Matthew 20:28 New King James Version (NKJV)
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I would like to thank my fellow consultants for all their assistance in getting this blog published: Michelle Arrington, Hannah Hall, Ariel Mcgarry, Carol White, Tracy Yoder, and J.P.Wilhelm. Their encouragement and patience have been invaluable to me.