Towel and Basin

Symbols of the Christian faith: Towel and Basin

You are familiar with the Christian symbol of the cross.  The cross upon which our Savior died.

You are familiar with the Christian symbol of the empty tomb.  The tomb through which Jesus provided victory over sin and death.

You are familiar with the Christian symbols of the bread and cup.  The bread and cup with which Jesus said, “Every time you do this, do this in remembrance of me.”  

Yet, we also have the symbols of the towel and basin.  John’s gospel does not give us the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper, but the towel and basin of service. The towel and basin place servanthood front and center.  The towel and basin link Christianity and service as an inseparable pair.  

Jesus took on the role of a servant.

Footwashing was considered among the most lowly of tasks in the first century.  Yet, it was a necessary task.  Ancient roads were dusty and well-traveled.  Once a group had gathered in a home, footwashing was necessary for the traveler’s feet and sandals would be caked in the dust from the road they walked to get there.

Footwashing was also a menial task.  So much so that it was the job of a servant, but it was so menial that a Jewish servant would not perform the task.  It was the job of a foreigner.  

Yet, a foreign servant was not present in the upper room the night of the events described in John 13.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, took the role of a servant.  What a sense of unease must have welled up within the hearts of the disciples as Jesus knelt before each one and carried out the humble task of a servant.  

We live in a time of crisis between what a person teaches and how he or she actually lives. We are familiar with the medical doctor who smokes cigarettes, the financial planner who carries large personal debt, the famous preacher caught in a sinful relationship.  In each case, “experts” live in direct contradiction to their message.  

This is not the case with Jesus.  Jesus spoke of love, humility, and service.  Jesus lived a life of love, humility, and service.

We are blessed when we follow Jesus.

Jesus told the disciples, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”    We have the advantage of knowing the end of the story.  Soon after this event, Jesus is betrayed.  He is crucified.  He is buried.  He is resurrected.  In his last moments, Jesus was setting before the church the example to follow.  

The footwashing of John 13 had significance beyond the literal act itself. Jesus was showing that humble service to others is the appropriate lifestyle for the Christ follower. The goal of a disciple is to become like his Master.   

Jesus concluded his footwashing act with these words: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  

Now that you know these things … you will be blessed as you do them.

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