What was the real lesson in Jesus' washing of the disciples feet? Was it simply dirty feet that He was concerned with? No, I think it was much more than that. I'm starting to think that it was symbolic of the fact that, as we walk through the world, part of the world rubs off on us and makes us spiritually and emotionally dirty. This is just natural and in and of itself it is not sin. What do we need when that happens? We need to be refreshed by the Lord. How does He do this? He does this through His body - the church. He does this through you and me.
I believe that foot washing means to refresh someone else. It is ministering Jesus to another brother or sister who has perhaps had a difficult day. I do not believe that it is necessarily a literal washing. We can wash each other's feet by a warm embrace, a warm handshake (as opposed to a cold and clammy one), praying with and for someone, crying with someone, and laughing with someone. In other words, basic and genuine fellowship is in this sense foot washing. It is "being there" for each other, whatever the need may be, in good times and in bad.
We are called to not to love the world (1 John 2:15) and to be set apart and holy (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:16). While we may not love the world, we are still very much exposed to it at every turn. Worldly philosophies concerning money, trade, commerce, education, health, etc., bombard us everywhere. We may start the day with the Lord in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and in meditation. However, at the end of the day we often feel like we've been assaulted and we are low in spirit. Essentially, we're drained. Exposure to the world has left us tarnished, and maybe even feeling a little hopeless and dirty.
Jesus did not say that the whole body needed a bath, as it was already clean. But the feet were another story. They symbolized the walking through this dirty, cold and often cruel world. As a result, only the feet needed to be washed. Perhaps that is why Acts 2:46 says that the early church met together "daily."
I believe that the principle behind washing each other's feet is to refresh each other and to be refreshed by each other. How well has the church really done this? Given the vast number of hurting and lonely people in the typical institutional church today, not to mention the non-believers all around us, the answer has to be that we haven't done this very well at all.
I do not wish to rehash what I written elsewhere in this blog concerning the institutional church, but let me simply say that part of the reason for this is that genuine fellowship does not really happen under the structure of the typical institutional church. In the system people are not really given the opportunity to care and minister to one another. The tendency is to always look forward to the leading of the paid clergy to do everything, rather than the ministering of one to another ourselves (the common priesthood of believers - 1 Peter 2:9). The real ministry of foot washing is outside of the typical institutional church system. That is where real "one anothering" happens.
How are we going to change the church from simply being an irrelevant institution into a body of believers that practices washing each other's feet? It has to start somewhere. Maybe it's time to start with you and me. Where are the hurting Christian brothers and sisters? Where are our friends and neighbours who are tired from walking through the junk of this world? Remember, whatever we "do" for others, we "do" for Jesus (Matthew 25:40). In the same way, whatever we fail to "do" for others, we fail to "do" for Jesus (Matthew 25:45). A sobering thought.
Is it time for you and me to really start "being" the church (as opposed to simply "going" to one) and to start washing each other's feet? Is it time for us each to take the responsibility to encourage and uplift each other in real and tangible ways (as opposed to with cheap words and pat answers)? I pray that it is. May God put that burning desire in each of us.