Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.John 13:14
What does Jesus mean when He says that we ought to wash one another's feet? Some Christians have taken this very literally and have thought that our Lord was here instituting another sacrament.
Jesus is not giving us another sacrament to follow here. But what He means is that just as we need the cleansing and forgiveness of our Lord to maintain the sense of unity and refreshment of spirit in our Christian life, so we need to extend to one another free forgiveness for guilt and for the injury that we may do to one another. We are to be, in the words of Paul,
kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
He knows that it is difficult sometimes to forgive, that the flesh within cries out for revenge. And often we love the feeling of carrying a grudge or of resisting the overtures of other people. But Jesus says that when we are doing that, we are doing what He would not do. We are demanding our rights. And we are forgetting that our Lord and Master humbled Himself, though He was rightfully the Lord of glory, the one with every right to claim the worship of people. Nevertheless, He laid it all aside. He washed the feet of His own disciples.
No Christian has any right to sit in self-righteous judgment upon another. We may bring others under the searching light of the Word of God. We may, out of concern and compassion for their welfare, expose to them what they are doing. But in no sense are we to do so with self-righteousness, with the suggestion that we would never do a thing like that. Our Lord insists that we wash one another's feet in love.
Dr. H. A. Ironside pointed out how wise it is to be concerned about the temperature of the water when we wash one another's feet. An angry person will be so distracted by what has happened that he or she will use boiling water, but people don't want their feet washed in boiling water. Some come with a holier-than-thou attitude and attempt to use freezing-cold water to wash another's feet. No one will allow it under those conditions. Others attempt to wash people's feet with no water at all. They tear into another, attempting to scrape away the dirt, and the skin along with it. What they say may be true, but it is offered up with no love at all. But our Lord insists that we wash one another's feet in love.
Help me, Lord, to so love my brothers and sisters in Christ that I am willing to wash their feet and am willing to allow them to wash mine. May I do so in tenderness and warmth, knowing how gentle You are with me.
Which is stronger - our sense of forgiveness, or our desire for revenge? What does Jesus mean when He says that we ought to wash one another's feet?