Culture and the ‘social norms’ of our way of life often determine how we behave and how we understand certain actions.

This fact, combined with the passing of time, pose the greatest challenges to understanding and applying much of what the Bible teaches.  Literally, the Bible was written in other times and other places by people who often see the world differently than we do.

This is never more true than with the curious act of foot washing.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we remember Jesus going into the upper room and giving us the Lord’s Supper while eating the Passover meal.  The Fourth Gospel does not record the meal, but instead seems to substitute it with the telling of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

It was a cultural act of servanthood in the 1st century.  People walked everywhere, in open sandals, and likely didn’t shower often.  The washing of feet came to be accepted as something people did to show hospitality and honor to guests, although it was often done by servants and not the owner of the home.  So footwashing was a functional, intimate, and almost ceremonial way of saying, “Welcome!”

Here is what I’d like to know how you think about it–what might be a 21st century equivalent to this ancient practice.  Certainly, most of us would be repulsed if a host tried to wash our feet when we arrived at their home.  We might even think they were being rude, insinuating that we stink.

I’ve asked this question many times over the years and I’m always interested in the creative answers I get.  Some have suggested that having guests take off their shoes and putting comfy slippers on their feet is good while someone else once suggested a back rub.

An idea occurred to me yesterday I’d not thought of before, and that is perhaps the modern equivalent is loaning a guest who is staying with you your car.  We Americans have a very intimate relationship with our cars, and so handing over the keys is an act of trust and of vulnerability.  It also signifies honor while meeting a practical need.

I really don’t now what the answer is, other than Jesus is teaching about servanthood and hospitality all at the same time and showing us how we should treat each other.  I’d be very interested to know what you think about it.


  1. I think inviting others to your home and preparing a simple yet elegant meal accomplishes the sense of welcome, generosity, and vulnerability that foot washing was designed to do.

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