An act necessary for comfort and cleanliness for any who have traveled dusty Palestinian roads wearing sandals. Customarily, a host provided gusts with water for washing their own feet (Judg 19:21; Luke 7:44, where the complaint was that Simon had not provided water). Foot-washing was regarded as so lowly a task that it could not be required of a Hebrew slave. In this context the statement of John the Baptist that he was unworthy to untie the sandal (to wash the feet) of the One coming after him (Mark 1:7) indicates great humility. As a sign of
As a sign of exceptional love, a disciple might wash a master’s feet (Luke 7:37-50) was more than expected hospitality. Hers was an act of great love that evidenced the forgiveness of her sins (7:47).
Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5) has both an ethical and a symbolic sense. The ethical sense is emphasized in John 13:14-15 where Jesus presented Himself as the example of humble, loving service (cp. Luke 22:27). The command to do for one another what Christ had done for them ought not to be confined simply to washing feet . What Jesus did for the disciples was to lay down His life for them (John 15:13). Thus the ethical imperative calls for giving our lives in extravagant acts of selfless service. Foot-washing is one expression of this.
Like the Lord Supper, the foot-washing is an enacted sermon on the death of Christ. This symbolic sense is highlighted in the picture of Jesus’ laying aside His garments and then taking them up (a picture of Christi’s laying down and taking up His life, John 10:17-18), the note that the foot-washing is necessary for the disciples to receive their inheritance (“part” 13:8), and the statement that it affects cleansing (13:10). Some interpreters see a connection with baptism (and the Eucharist) as sacraments of cleansing. Instead, the foot-washing, like baptism and the Supper, bears witness to the same salvific event, the selfless giving of Christ in the humiliating death of the cross.