A Presbyterian pastor told of a conversation with a man in his congregation; “You preachers talk a lot about giving, but when you get right down to it, it all comes down to Basin Theology.” The pastor asked, “Basin Theology, what’s that?” The man replied, “Remember what Pilate did when he had the chance to acquit Jesus? He called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole thing. But Jesus, the night before his death, called for a basin and proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples.”
It all comes down to Basin Theology. Which basin will you use?
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had 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 back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, 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 also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:1-17)
What a vulnerable position Jesus was in. He knew Judas was about to betray him. He knew of his impending mockery, torture, crucifixion, and death. He knew Peter would soon deny him. He knew the disciples would scatter when he got arrested.
And yet, instead of washing his hands of the whole situation like Pilate did (and like I would be inclined to do)—Jesus removed his outer garments and clothed himself with a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet.
Whenever we love deeply or invest in a relationship, there is the possibility of disappointment and betrayal. Jesus knew that love means being vulnerable, and he chose to love anyway.
It’s a hurtful thing to be betrayed and denied by friends. It takes a lot of courage to trust someone again. But here is Jesus—knowing they will betray him—humbling himself before them. God clothed in flesh clothed in a towel and washing their feet.
Artists depict Jesus in many ways, but very few sculpt or paint Jesus as the servant—on his knees—washing smelly feet. This is not a pleasant view of Jesus. He isn’t acting like an all-powerful Lord but like a servant doing a very menial task.
Jesus’ love for these disciples—and for us—is beyond our human reasoning. Do you find it difficult to love unconditionally because of a fear of rejection? Do you find it hard to forgive because you think you will be hurt again?
Jesus, knowing perfectly well the fickle allegiance of his disciples, loved them anyway. We love the garment of humility, but we prefer to see it on someone else.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)
It all comes down to Basin Theology.
We prefer Pilot’s basin. We’d rather wash our hands of the plight of our neighbor, or of the friend that has hurt us. We’d rather wash our hands of any responsibility to love and forgive. We'd rather wash our hands of those who may hurt our reputation if we associate with them.
But Jesus is a washing Savior. He washes his disciples’ feet. He washes us in the blood of the Lamb. He washes us in the waters of Baptism. Jesus uses a basin of forgiveness.