John 13:1-16 — It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
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. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
J. Dudley Woodbury tells a poignant true story that occurred in the dismal refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan. The fighting between the Majahideen in post-Soviet Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban resulted in thousands of refugees flooding into the camps near the border. Most of the children in the camps ran around barefoot in both the intense heat and intense cold.
A Christian organization brought in hundreds of sandals for the children but decided not to just distribute them but care for the children’s feet as well. So they utilized as many Christian volunteers as possible who washed the children’s filthy feet, put medication on their sores and prayed for them silently as they gave out the sandals.
As Woodbury tells the story, some months later a Muslim primary school teacher in the camp asked her students who the best Muslims were. One little girl raised her hand and responded, “The kafirs.” (unbelievers).
The teacher was shocked at the reply, and asked, “Why?”
The little girl said, “The Mujahideen killed my father, but the kafirs washed my feet!”
Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the world. Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help. Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978 (#141)