Jesus often used object lessons as a means of instruction. We at BibleTruthForToday believe that Jesus' washing of the disciple feet following the Passover seder just before His crucifixion was just such an object lesson. We believe that Jesus never intended his lesson to become a "ceremony" to be "observed" (practiced) and certainly did not intend to create a "sacrament", but, rather, the LESSON He taught was to be followed, practiced and taught!
First, it is clear that we CANNOT be speaking here of the common foot washing custom of the times in which Jesus lived. For if that were the case, they would certainly have washed their feet BEFORE dinner, while the object lesson Jesus taught FOLLOWED dinner. The insight gained by tying together John's account and Luke's account is that the disciples were having somewhat of a prideful quarrel about their own individual relative importance in the kingdom of God. It was at THAT point (the point at which it was clear that they had MISSED some essential truth) that Jesus went into action to SHOW them a lesson that was vital for them to understand.
We read, in context, from Luke 22:14-27:
"When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing. Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves."(NKJV)
It would appear that at this point Jesus started His object lesson and we pick up the story from John 13:2-17:
"And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.” So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."(NKJV)
The very heart of the issue is Jesus' profound teaching (by example) on the humility of servanthood - which constitutes greatness in the kingdom of God (contrary to "natural", human, "carnal" type of thinking). And the TRUE lesson from the Master is that HE humbled Himself to serve us - Philippians 2:8 tells us that Jesus "humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.", and we must likewise humble ourselves in serving others - not through a "ceremony" observed symbolically at various times, but through a consistent life of practicing that principle!
We believe that Jesus never intended that foot washing become a ceremony to be "observed", but a life principle to be practiced continuously.