Every couple of months we host a Women’s Day at our church in Mae Toh, Thailand. It’s a time of fellowship and learning and our March event had the theme of Servanthood. After days of praying about what to teach, I felt led to John 13:1-17, the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet during their last supper together. Immediately upon reading the story, I tried to think of something different to teach on. The problem I was having is that I knew that if I taught this story, I would want to end it with our own foot washing ceremony.
Why is that a problem?
In Thai culture, feet are considered the dirtiest and lowliest part of the body. Sure, we all think feet are dirty, but it’s taken to a different level here. In the Buddhist culture, the whole lower part of the body is considered dirty, with feet being the dirtiest. So much so that pants, underwear and socks cannot be washed in the same tub/machine as shirts, jackets, bras, etc. After taking a shower, separate towels are used to dry the upper and lower body. In public, feet cannot be pointed at anyone and you would never ever touch someone’s feet.
As an American, this is a much bigger culture adjustment than I thought it would be. I never realized until I came to Thailand that I moved stuff and pointed with my feet. Even just crossing my legs became a problem because when doing so, my feet were often pointing at someone. Needless to say, it was a huge adjustment and still comes into play at times!
For me to ask a bunch of women to not only wash someone else’s feet, but to allow someone to wash theirs, was a big deal.
So I went to Aon and Ya and asked them what they thought. Their initial reactions were not very encouraging and I decided that if they thought it was a bad idea, I wasn’t going to do it. I spent the next three days trying to come up with something else to teach on and came up with zero ideas. God just kept leading me back to the passage in John 13.
I sat down with Aon and Ya again and after talking a bit, found out that they didn’t really understand what the foot washing was all about. So we had a bible lesson and I taught them.
We talked about how people in Jesus’ time walked all day in sandals in the dirt and their feet would be very dirty and smelly by the end of the day. They pointed out how that was the same in Thailand and they understood why the feet needed to be washed upon entering a house.
So I moved on to the symbolism in the foot washing, how it is a picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross. In the same way that Jesus took off his outer clothing and washed the disciples feet, he laid aside his God nature to serve us, all the way to dying on the cross for us.
Verse 8 says “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Literally, unless we allow God to come in and clean all of our sin out of our lives, we cannot be with Jesus. This is done when we accept Jesus into our hearts and become Christians.
Verse 10 says “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” This is telling that we only need to accept Jesus one time. That’s it. He will come into our hearts and live with us forever!
However, we still live in a sinful world and we are still affected by sin every single day. The foot washing is a symbol of Jesus cleaning the dirt from the world off of our hearts on a daily basis. We must allow Jesus to wash us daily!
Then I talked about how this story is not only a picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross, it is also a picture of a lifestyle that Jesus wants us to have, a lifestyle of serving each other in love.
In verse 14 Jesus doesn’t say “Now that I’ve washed your feet, you should wash my feet.” He says “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
The world’s definition of love is that we give in order to get. Now that I’ve given you something, you have to give me something in return. God teaches us that love should be given freely and sacrificially!. We must give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.
In verse 16 Jesus is telling the disciples that if even he, God, can live a lifestyle of serving in love, than they should also. And in turn, we need to.
Verse 17 tells us that if we do these things, we will be blessed. This literally means that if we follow the example of Jesus in this story, our futures will be happy and fulfilled. Who wouldn’t want that?!
If you seek happiness as your goal, it will always elude you. But if you turn away from this and instead depend personally on Christ and serve others, happiness will always find you!
By the time I got to the end of the lesson, I was on fire and astonished to find that Aon and Ya were really excited too! The both told me that I HAD to teach this lesson to the women and then we HAD to wash each other’s feet.
At this point, I just sat back and laughed. Why did I ever doubt God’s leading? He obviously knows much better than me what the women need to hear. And yet I felt the need to step in and think I knew better. Lord, when will I ever learn?!
So I took this lesson to Mae Toh and taught it to the women there. They were engaged and interested, and I was excited to teach it. When I got to the end, I told them that I wanted them to wash each other’s feet. Instead of complaining and looking like they’d rather be anywhere else, like I’d expected, they were excited. They grabbed the soap, towels and tubs I brought and jumped right into it.
There was laughter and a few tears and a time of serving that ended up being more special than I could have imagined. And of course their focus was not on the feet, but on serving each other in love.
They ended the foot washing by praying for each other, prayers that they would be better servants and learn to love those around them with a Christ-like love.
What a wonderful, blessed day it was!