Kolar: The disciples didn’t have nice shoes

"Of course, Jesus was not an ordinary host. He was a host with an important lesson to teach – a new commandment to illustrate," writes Janel Kolar.

Rev. Janel F. Kolar is the Pastor at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Dickinson, N.D. (Contributed photo)

John 13:8-9 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

Feet are a funny thing. Those of us who are lucky enough to have them, tend to think of not only our feet, but most other people’s feet as kind of gross. While I used to rub my Mom’s feet (in gratitude for all of the miles she put on those feet for me), and I sometimes rub my husband’s feet, or those of my children and grandchildren, the thought of touching the feet of others, even friends, gives me the willies. It isn’t hard, then, to understand why Peter was shocked that Jesus would have any desire to wash his feet.

Of course, in Peter’s day, feet were probably even more unpleasant than they are today. The disciples didn’t have nice shoes or odor eaters. They had leather sandals, and they put lots of miles on those sandals. They walked wherever they went – from neighborhood to neighborhood and village to village. And they walked on rocky, sand and dirt roads, not nice pavement or sidewalks. I think it’s safe to assume the disciples had dirty feet.

It's understandable, then, that Peter might be appalled at the idea of Jesus washing his feet. While it was common for a host to offer a basin of water to his or her guests so they might wash their feet when they entered a home, the host didn’t do the washing for them. Sometimes they would direct their servants to do so, but ordinarily, that was not something a host would stoop to do. Of course, Jesus was not an ordinary host. He was a host with an important lesson to teach – a new commandment to illustrate.

Jesus told them: “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” And, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."


As we move on through holy week toward the gloom of Good Friday, I pray that we might all find a moment to pause and consider the ways we can love one another – the ways we can mimic the servant leadership Jesus modeled – the way we can wash one another’s feet, if not literally, then figuratively – with extravagant welcome and hospitality, blessing the roads we are all on, and loving one another so that everyone will know we are the disciples of Jesus.

Related Topics: FAITH
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