The Servant King – John 13

Jesus has one last meal with His disciples before His arrest, followed by a lightning-fast trial that would lead Him to the cross the very next day. But His work among His disciples was not done, as He continued to enlighten them with His teachings during what is now known as His Last Supper.

The Ministry of Service

While they were all eating the meal, Jesus got up, poured water into a basin and began washing the feet of His disciples. While it was customary in those days for the host to arrange for the feet of His guests to be washed, the disciples would have been mortified at the sight of their beloved rabbi doing this menial work. But the other Gospel writers fail to mention this act of humility perhaps as it was a departure from what the disciples had come to expect from Jesus’ ministry.

Incidents like Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well and the late-night Bible study with a Pharisee were moments that perhaps did not seem important to the disciples. Many of the disciples knew that Jesus was from God but they did not truly understand His mission or God’s compassion when He sent His only Son. If they found it hard to believe that Jesus would stoop down to clean their feet, they could have never in their wildest imaginations envision what He was about to do for them on the cross.

In our home groups, it is usually the women who take care of the food and often would stay back to help the hostess clean the dishes as well. If one day the pastor decided to come to the kitchen and offer his help in what is a routine chore, people would be astonished as they would have never imagined their pastor as a normal human being doing the dishes at his own home.

Just like we idolize our earthly ministers, the disciples were limiting the work of Jesus only to miracles and signs when they were not letting Him clean their hearts. Jesus himself performs the act of cleaning His disciple’s feet and in the process sets an example for all of us about humility and service towards our fellow believers but more than that He wanted to show His disciples (and us) that He did not come only to preach and heal but to clean each one of us completely.

“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

John 13:8

Once again, Peter is showing his overzealousness for Christ and is missing out on what Jesus is trying to teach him. He gets reprimanded by Jesus in the process, as he was treating Jesus like any other leader of this world. We keep God at an arm’s length and try to hide our true selves from Him and don’t allow Him to work in our lives. We limit God only to the things we feel He can do for us when He is ready to enter all parts of our lives. The creator of the universe is being directed by all of us on what His role should be in our lives. We want to take part in Sunday service and even dance to the tune of worship songs but keep our hearts safely guarded against Him lest we let Him cleanse it for us.

Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.

John 13:10

Jesus loves His own till the very end and there is nothing that can separate us from Him as we have been washed clean by His blood and have already received our salvation. Once a sinner is saved, they are saved forever and there is no need for us to be saved again and again. But because we are travelling through this dusty world filled with sin, there is a need for us to wash our feet daily. We need to connect with him every day to not let the filth of this world penetrate its way into our hearts. Judas was His very own till he decided to keep Jesus away from his heart and satan came in (perhaps even bringing seven other spirits). Remember that Jesus is not asking us to clean our own feet or to fight our own battles but He is ready to stoop down to our level and wash away our sins, and the guilt that comes with it, if we only let Him do so.

Heart over Ceremonies

Some denominations use Maundy Thursdays to continue the tradition of washing each other’s feet while others see this passage only as a metaphor for serving one another. When Jesus asked us to drink wine in Remembrance of Him or baptize people in His name, we do those aspects of Christian ministry diligently but feet washing or any other act of humility we only do in Spirit. We don’t want to follow everything that Jesus teaches us even though He explicitly set an example for us by washing His disciple’s feet and asking us to do the same.

Jesus never said go and dip people in the water but we say that Jesus himself took immersion baptism so we must also take it even though the baptism He took is totally different from the one we take today. Jesus set an example by leaving his family and wealth and followed only God’s voice but since we do not want to lose our worldly comforts, we started outsourcing missionary work like we do for the other menial tasks in our lives. We hire people to help us in our everyday tasks ranging from washing our cars, cleaning our houses and even looking after our kids when we are busy doing something much important or doing something that is of more value to us. Sadly we started outsourcing God’s work also as it does not seem to add value in our lives and we leave to the hired help.

The concept of the show Undercover Boss though novel at the time was later adopted by many executives who wanted to know the inner workings of their company. They infiltered the blue colour environment to get to know what their employees actually think. The creator of the world already knows the inner working of our hearts but still sent His Son to this factory called earth. Jesus came to show us that we can live a perfect life without sin. When He came on the donkey and entered Jerusalem like a king, people thought that the Messiah has come to overthrow the Roman empire but the king got down on his knees and became a servant for all our sake.

We are put on this earth to worship and help others worship God. If we can’t clean each other’s feet how are we going to touch a leper who comes to us for prayer or someone with an even dire disease? How are we going to empathize and pray for our believers if we don’t have the will to serve but the will to rule over our fellow believers? Jesus is not only our Eternal king but a servant king who left his throne and came to serve us. In our overzealousness, much like the one Peter exhibited, we also forget to serve our fellow believers but would rather undertake only the things that will lift our name. Jesus left his throne and came down, the creator of the world came down and washed us of our sins. If only we can get down from our high horse and serve our fellow brethren.

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them

John 13:17


  • V6: Why was this act of Jesus not received in the same way as His other miracles and signs?
  • V8 Why is peter not letting Christ wash his feet?
  • V10: What did Jesus mean by not cleaning the entire body of those who are clean?
  • V15: Should we be washing each other’s feet even today?

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