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The story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet unfolds in the Gospel of John (Jn 13:1-17), setting the stage during the Last Supper, just before his crucifixion. This powerful act transcends its literal meaning, becoming a cornerstone of Christian teachings on humility, service, and spiritual renewal.

In ancient times, since the people walked barefoot or wore sandals, feet were seen as very dirty. Cleaning feet prior to eating was a vital practice. They used to eat the meal reclining so the feet might be on the sofa and close to the face of the person reclining nearby. So, they needed to wash their feet before entering the house. A slave, servant, or host (Lk 7:44) would wash the feet of the guest as a traditional gesture of honoring and welcoming the person (Gen 18:4).

Since the apostles had no host or servant to wash the feet, they skipped the ritual. Ostensibly, none of the apostles wanted to be at the service of others, not even to wash the feet of their Lord! So, they might have commenced supper by washing themselves and without the ceremonial washing of feet. Jesus had noticed it and taught them a lesson by making himself a humble servant of theirs. According to the Jewish practice, the washing of feet should take place before the Passover celebration and not during the supper, as Jesus did.

The evangelist gives a graphic account of how Jesus taught the lesson of Servant Leadership to his disciples. While serving, the servant used to take off his outer garment and tie a towel around his waist for practical reasons. Jesus needed the towel to wipe the wet feet of the apostles after having washed them. The apostles were amazed when they saw Jesus dressed like a servant. They did not understand what he would do. Jesus used symbolic and dramatic actions, like some prophets of the past, to convey strong and memorable messages to the people. He was fulfilling what he had said earlier. “I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22:27). “Be like the Son of Man who has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many” (Mt 20:28). Thus, the incarnate God did the menial job of a slave for his subjects.

The family used to keep a towel, a washbasin, and a jug of water inside the house for repeated washing of hands in between different courses of food during the meal. Jesus used them for the feet washing. He did not seek the help of anyone in this service, like pouring water into the basin. He did everything himself, like a humble slave. According to the custom of the time, if there was no slave or servant, an inferior would wash the feet of a superior—like a wife to her husband, children to the parents, disciples to the master; but not vice versa. By doing this act, Jesus touched the hearts and minds of his disciples. Besides washing their feet, Jesus affectionately wiped the feet dry with the towel girded around his waist.

Upon reaching Peter, Jesus encountered resistance as Peter found it inappropriate for the Messiah to undertake such a humble duty. Jesus responded, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (Jn 13:8).


Foot washing is more than a historical event. During Holy Thursday services, reenacting this ritual encourages deep reflection on its significance. Christians are inspired to practice humility and demonstrate Christ-like love through service.

Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet teaches us to serve others with love, humility, and selflessness. It emphasizes that true greatness is found in serving others, as Jesus did. The enduring message from Jesus is captured in his words: “Do as I have done for you; I have set an example” (Jn 13:15). This transforms into a core Christian value, calling us to love and support each other. It reminds us to prioritize others’ needs, reflecting Jesus’ humility and selflessness.

1. Humility and Service:
Jesus washing the disciples’ feet illustrates humility and servant leadership. By performing a menial task, Jesus shows that genuine greatness in God’s kingdom lies in humble service. Christians are encouraged to follow Jesus’ example of serving others, regardless of status.

2. Love and Sacrifice:
This act foreshadows Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, symbolizing his love and the cleansing from sin it brings. Christians are reminded to love selflessly, just as Jesus loved us.

3. Spiritual Cleansing:
Jesus’ response to Peter highlights the importance of spiritual purification and accepting his sacrifice for salvation. The act represents the cleansing from sin that Jesus provides, teaching Christians the value of maintaining a relationship with him. After washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus intended to establish the Holy Eucharist, symbolically cleansing their souls. This teaches us the importance of spiritual purification before receiving the Eucharist.

4. Community and Fellowship:
The communal setting of the foot washing emphasizes the importance of mutual care within the Christian fellowship. Christians are encouraged to practice humility and serve one another, fostering unity and love within their communities.

Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper conveys profound lessons in humility, service, love, sacrifice, and spiritual cleansing. It calls Christians to emulate Jesus by serving others selflessly, loving sacrificially, seeking spiritual purity, and fostering unity within the Christian community.

By performing the lowly task of washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus demonstrated true humility, challenging notions of power and status. He showed that greatness comes through humble service to others. This act of servant leadership embodied his teachings on putting others first and leading through loving service.

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