John 13:12. When he had finished washing their feet, he [Jesus] put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Jesus is ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ in relation to his disciples. There is a complete category distinction. He is not the same as them: he is above them (perhaps more than they could presently understand due to his appearance as ‘one like them’). And yet he has served them like the lowest kind of slave.
Jesus’ “example” (ὑπόδειγμα) is a type or model, proposed for imitation (v15). It is intended to be copied (Heb. 4:11; Jas. 5:10; 2 Pet. 2:6). The replica is meant to reveal the original (Heb. 8:5; 9:23) for those unable to personally witness it for themselves.
So Jesus’ foot-washing action must now function as a model (v15). It is an obligation. “You ought…” is a command. When was the last time you heard a sermon that insisted you act as a slave for other Christians? Do you do it?
Some have insisted that we replicate the actual washing of feet— and perhaps make this an Easter tradition. But since it seems that Jesus is more concerned about the cross that he is with actual foot-cleanliness, our obedience to this command is going to consume our whole life. A symbolic foot-washing means little unless it points to a lifestyle of sacrificial service of others.
Lord Jesus, please forgive the paucity of my obedience to your command. Grant that I will truly follow your example. Change my heart. Consume my pride. Let me find joy in service. Amen.