You open your Bible, eager to understand more about this intriguing act of worship mentioned in Scripture. As you study, you realize that kissing or washing feet is an act of humility, service, and honor – one that draws us closer to Christ and each other. Join me as we explore the significance of this sacred practice.
Kissing or washing feet may seem unusual today, but it held deep meaning in Biblical times. Foot washing was a common courtesy extended to guests entering a home. Roads were dusty, and people wore sandals. Cool water soothed hot, tired feet. But even more, washing someone’s feet was a mark of honor, respect, and humility. The lowest of servants – or disciples – attended to this unpleasant task.
That’s why it’s striking that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in John 13. The King of Kings humbled Himself to serve these followers and call them to love one another. As we’ll see, Mary’s kiss of Jesus’ feet in Luke 7 also showed her devotion. And later, the Church kissed Paul’s feet after his healing ministry in Acts 20.
Today, some churches practice foot washing ceremonies to remember Christ’s example. As we meditate on these passages, may we also be inspired to honor others, serve humbly, and worship Jesus in deeper ways.
Biblical Examples of Kissing or Washing Feet
Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet (John 13:1-17)
On the night before His death, Jesus gathered His disciples in an upper room to share the Passover meal. As described in John 13:1-17, Jesus rose, removed His outer robe, and wrapped a towel around His waist. He poured water in a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel.
When He came to Simon Peter, Peter objected. “‘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.'” (vv. 6-8).
Jesus’ act was one of care and purification. In this humble role, Jesus showed the disciples they also should serve one another. After washing their feet, Jesus said, “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” (vv. 14-15). This powerful object lesson stuck with the disciples.
Mary Anoints Jesus’ Feet (Luke 7:36-50)
Kissing the feet of a great teacher showed utmost devotion and love. We see this when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in the home of Simon the Pharisee:
“And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil” (Luke 7:37-38).
Mary’s tears bathed Christ’s feet. She dried them with her own hair and poured out costly oil. This intimate act stirred controversy with Simon. But Jesus welcomed Mary’s adoration, saying, “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (v. 47).
The Church Elders Kiss Paul’s Feet (Acts 20:36-38)
Foot kissing occurs again at the close of Paul’s time in Ephesus. In Acts 20, Paul met with the Ephesian elders and ministered to them one last time. Verse 36 says, “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.”
The Significance of Foot Kissing and Washing
These passages reveal key reasons followers of Jesus practiced foot kissing and washing:
Humility and Service
When Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist and washed dirt off the disciples’ feet, He modeled humble service to others. This menial task was often reserved for the lowliest servant. Yet Jesus, the Lord of all, took the form of a servant (Philippians 2). He sacrificed His comfort and dignity to meet the disciples’ needs.
Honor and Deference
Mary’s kissing of Jesus’ feet honored Him as Lord and Teacher. She showed respect, deference, and devotion. Her humble, sacrificial gift praised Christ.
So too, the Ephesian elders’ kiss honored Paul’s apostolic ministry. Their act demonstrated respect for Paul’s spiritual leadership and sorrow at his departure.
When we honor others, we reflect Christ’s command to esteem them above ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Our care and service for others in Jesus’ name honors Him.
Love and Relationship
The elders’ tearful embrace of Paul also demonstrated their love for him. They knew each other well after years in Ephesus. Their kisses and tears reflected the depth of their relationship.
Likewise, washing the disciples’ feet showed Jesus’ love for His own until the end (John 13:1). He wanted them to continue His work. Our service to others in humility flows from our love for Jesus and for them as fellow believers.
Purification and Consecration
By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus purified them for service in His name. Their feet, and thus their lives, were cleansed through Christ. As they walked in obedience to Him, they became more consecrated vessels for Kingdom work.
When we serve and honor others, we participate in Christ’s cleansing, purifying work in their lives. Our humble service consecrates us and others to dwell in God’s presence and spread His Gospel.
Practicing Foot Washing Today
Many churches today practice foot washing ceremonies to remember Jesus’ example. Some follow Jesus’ original model, literally washing each other’s feet. Others modify the act while preserving its significance.
Often, foot washing occurs on Maundy Thursday – the Thursday before Easter commemorating the Last Supper. But churches may also include it in regular worship services.
Participants typically remove their shoes and socks. They may sit in chairs or on the floor. Partners, friends, or family members are paired up. One gently pours water over the other’s feet and dries them with a towel. Then they switch roles.
The pastor may share a meditation from John 13. Silent prayer allows each person to consecrate themselves before God. Foot washing becomes an act of communion, service, humility, honor, and love for their brother or sister in Christ.
Conclusion: Walk in Love
Kissing feet may seem strange today, but it carried profound meaning between Jesus and His followers. As we’ve seen, foot kissing symbolized humility, service, honor, love, purification, and relationship.
We live differently than those biblical times. Yet the principles behind this sacred act remain powerfully relevant today. As we dwell on Christ’s example, may we find practical ways to extend selfless love and service to those around us.
When we wash others’ feet through caring acts, we draw closer to Jesus – the One who modeled such sacrificial love. We also build deeper fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the faith. By God’s grace, may we “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (Ephesians 5:2).
- Jesus washing the disciples’ feet modeled humble, loving service and purification for ministry.
- Mary kissing Jesus’ feet showed her devotion as a forgiven follower.
- Church elders kissing Paul’s feet honored his spiritual leadership and expressed their love.
- Foot washing represents humility, service, honor, love, purity, and relationship with Christ and others.
- Churches today practice foot washing to remember Jesus’ example of sacrificial love.
- Serving others as Jesus did draws us closer to Him and our fellow believers.
By following Christ’s model of selfless love, may we build deeper fellowship and partner in His redemptive work.