Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:10)
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the narrative of a passage in the bible, in the social underpinnings of the text, on what it means to be a doer of the word, on how to be socially aware of the world around us, what it means to be a Christian, how to interact with the believer, the unbeliever, the stranger, that we miss the spiritual aspect of what God is trying to tell us. Many times, yes, we will over-spiritualize a practical passage of scripture, but there are also other times in which we will over-practicalize a spiritual aspect of the Word, knowing that the practical applications are there, and are apparent, and are easily discerned, sometimes so overtly obvious that we forget there being a spiritual aspect at all, and then, with careful reading, and deep meditation, we discover the spiritual aspect, shocked that we missed it in the first place, and wondering why we hadn't seen it right off from the first.
Such is the 13th chapter of John's gospel, where Jesus washes the disciples' feet. The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus knew that his hour had come and that this last discourse, private for his apostles, was going to have deep spiritual significance, and that he was going to speak very plainly to them, the parables having gone, and although the plain speak may not be clear, and he would have to clarify on the fly, and repeat many things, he was going to speak in that direct language that the apostles could understand, because he needed them to know what to do after he was gone. He would also speak to them plainly in the forty days after his resurrection and before his ascension, but now the time has begun, and his speech was becoming plain for them. He knows that he is ready to begin the last journey to the cross and beyond, and that he would end up at the right hand of the father, and he knows his own, who are in this hostile world, and so the instruction needed to begin, in how to handle themselves against said hostile world, with the love that he was bestowing upon them. He saw the danger was great toward them from the world, and he was going to, over the next few chapters on this gospel, take them gently through all the truths, plainly.
Supper was over, and the text says that at that moment, the devil had put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Christ, and so Jesus began his discourse with a demonstration. We think there are two sections to this, that the demonstration is distinct and separate from the multi-chapter discourse that follows, but the teaching has already begun with the example. Yes, the devil was about to use one of his own to betray him, but all things were his, given to him by his father, and he was in control of all reality and truth. It was time to begin the discourse. Of course, when he begins to wash the disciples' feet, they do not understand what he is doing. Peter outright refuses, but then Jesus tells him that he will have no part in him if he refuses--a spiritual truth, of course, because Christ is talking about the washing away of sin, and this is what the demonstration is spiritually about--and so Peter immediately reverses his stance on the washing and demands Jesus drench him from head to toe!
Here is the crucial verse that begins everything in the upper room: he that is washed needs not a full-body cleansing, and we should know that Jesus is speaking spiritually here, because his disciples haven't physically washed. He is only physically washing their feet, a symbol of the continual washing in the word of God that they will need to undertake day-in and day-out of their lives. Jesus tells them later (15:3) that he has washed them in his word, and that they, too are to wash each other in the word, and the wash outsiders in the word. Jesus tells them that they are clean--the first to be washed from sins by his atonement, which is to come, but the spiritual truth is there, as he tells them that they are clean--except for their feet. Walking through the world, even the saintliest Christian is going to get dirty from the world itself. The most faithful Christian stumbles, the most faithful Christian sins, and he must continually repent while living in this world, for he has not been glorified yet by the Lord. So, as he walks, his feet get dirty, and so we must wash his spiritual feet, by repenting, by washing his neighbor's feet, his brother's feet, encouraging them spiritually, and pressing them to repent of their day-to-day sins.
But then there are those like Judas, who falls into a special category, one in which he is a pretender, not like the unbelieving world, but more like the false church, who pretends that he is one of the apostles--and he was never an apostle in truth--and who reveals himself to not have the slightest inkling of faith in his Lord. He is not an apostle who was and then was not. As Jesus says a chapter earlier, he was a thief who was stealing from the till. He was never one of them, as John tells us again in his first letter to the church. This is one, like an unbeliever, who has not the Spirit of God in him, who does not believe, and so is not clean in his entirety. He not only has dirty feet, but he has dirty hands and head, as Peter so aptly describes. Those who reject the God who made them are also those who betray Christ, as we all once were, but Jesus takes us and washes us in his blood, the blood that was spilled by his death on the cross, Others are not washed. We may have our dirty feet that need to be continually washed in the water of the word and repentance, but theirs are souls that are completely lost to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Our feet are dirty. We must be "continually purged of our corrupt affections and worldly cares which remain daily in us." Jesus taught us this with symbolic examples and he spoke to us plainly. Then he went to the cross to actually execute this purging in reality. And, as we celebrated last week, he rose from the dead to reveal God's glory. In that same discourse, the one where Jesus tells them that they are clean, he tells them that he is now glorified. Even though he had not suffered on the cross yet, he pronounced them clean. Even though he had not risen from the grave, he pronounced himself glorified. The Word of God cleanses us, as the Holy Spirit cleanses us, and keeps us walking in this world safely, until our glorification in the next world. Put your faith in Christ, in the words that he spoke, in the words revealed in the scriptures, and be made clean.