A photo capturing a pair of weathered hands gently washing the feet of a weary traveler, symbolizing humility, compassion, and the act of servant leadership, reminiscent of the biblical story of Jesus having his feet washed.

Who Washed Jesus’ Feet? A Detailed Look At This Important Biblical Event

The washing of Jesus’ feet is one of the most well-known events in the Bible. It’s full of symbolism and teaches an important lesson about humility and service.

But who washed Jesus’ feet? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears, then wiped his feet with her hair.

Later, during the Last Supper, Jesus himself washed the feet of his 12 disciples.

In this approximately article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the foot-washing incidents, examining the context, significance, and lessons we can learn.

We’ll explore questions like: What did this act represent? Why was it so controversial? And how should it impact us today?

With thorough analysis and references to scholarly sources, you’ll get a comprehensive understanding of who washed Jesus’ feet and why it matters.

The Anointing of Jesus’ Feet by Mary

The Account in Luke 7:36-50

The story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet is found in Luke 7:36-50. Here’s a summary:

  • Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of Simon, a Pharisee.
  • While there, a “sinful” woman brought an alabaster flask of perfume.
  • The woman stood behind Jesus, weeping, and began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured the perfume on them.

Simon was indignant that Jesus would allow such a notoriously sinful woman to touch him. But Jesus rebuked Simon for judging the woman and not properly welcoming him into his home.

Jesus declared that the woman’s many sins were forgiven because she loved much. Her lavish display of devotion showed the depth of her gratitude for God’s mercy and grace.

Mary’s Extravagant Act of Devotion

Though unnamed in Luke’s account, tradition holds that this woman was Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. Mary had a reputation for sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn from him (Luke 10:39).

The perfume Mary used was likely pure nard, imported from the Himalayas and very expensive.

Breaking open the alabaster jar and pouring out all its contents demonstrated her sacrificial love and gratitude toward Jesus.

As Jesus said, Mary’s anointing was likely preparation for his burial. She may have intuited that his death was near. Her lavish gift honored Jesus before his crucifixion.

Washing His Feet with Tears and Hair

In Jesus’ day, washing someone’s feet was a mark of humility and service, often done by slaves. Mary’s weeping and using her hair to dry Jesus’ feet showed her devotion and submission.

By brazenly entering a dinner party uninvited and unveiling her hair, Mary broke cultural customs regarding women. This makes her act all the more scandalous and remarkable.

Jesus’ acceptance of Mary’s gift showed he did not share the cultural prejudices against her as a sinful woman. He welcomed her gesture, despite it being inappropriate by the standards of Jewish society.

Jesus Washing His Disciples’ Feet

The Story in John 13:1-17

The story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is found in John 13:1-17. It takes place right before the Last Supper on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.

Jesus and his 12 disciples had gathered together to share a final meal, and during this meal Jesus gets up, takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel.

The disciples are shocked that their Teacher and Lord would take on the role of a servant and wash their feet. When Jesus comes to Simon Peter, Peter says “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”.

Jesus replies that Peter can’t understand now what He is doing, but will understand later.

Peter responds “No, you shall never wash my feet!”. But Jesus answers “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”. So Peter asks Jesus to wash not just his feet but also his hands and head.

After washing their feet, Jesus puts his garments back on and returns to the table.

He explains to the disciples that He has set an example that they should do as He has done for them – to humbly serve one another. He emphasizes that while they call Him ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, He has washed their feet and so they should wash one another’s feet.

Jesus notes that while they did not understand at first, they will be blessed if they do these things.

A Lesson in Servanthood and Humility

By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus demonstrated great humility and emphasized the importance of servanthood. In that culture, washing someone’s feet was a task normally reserved for servants or slaves.

By taking on this lowly role, Jesus showed his disciples that true greatness comes from serving others, not from being served.

It was a powerful object lesson for the disciples to learn humility and servant-mindedness.

Jesus told them “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:26). As their Lord and Teacher, Jesus had every right to expect the disciples to serve him.

Yet He turned conventional thinking upside down by serving them in a humble, sacrificial way. His example would have a profound impact on the disciples as they later led the growing church and spread the gospel message.

This act of footwashing also foreshadowed how Christ would serve by laying down His life on the cross. It pointed to the supreme act of humility and servanthood that would come the next day, as Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified in order to accomplish the forgiveness of sins.

The Significance of the Act

Beyond the lesson in humility, there are several key significances to Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet:

  • It showed that Christ is the source of spiritual cleansing. Sin had separated man from God, but now Jesus provided a way for sins to be forgiven through faith in Him.
  • It symbolized baptism and the spiritual cleansing believers receive through faith in Christ (see Titus 3:5).
  • It pointed forward to Christ’s death on the cross which would provide full atonement for sin.
  • It demonstrated Jesus’ love for His own, loving them to the very end (John 13:1).
  • It established the love Christians should have for one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
  • It set the pattern of humble servanthood for all believers to follow.

Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet had immense symbolic meaning for them to ponder. It provided a powerful visual example that God Himself was willing to take on the role of a lowly servant in order to cleanse mankind of sin.

What a beautiful expression of Christ’s humility and the extent of His love for fallen humanity! This striking object lesson would undoubtedly stay etched in the disciples’ memory for the rest of their lives.

The Practice of Foot Washing in the Early Church

Following Jesus’ Example

The act of foot washing was a sign of hospitality and service in ancient times. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in John 13, he demonstrated great humility and set an example of servant leadership for all believers.

In the early church, many Christians took Jesus’ message to heart and regularly participated in foot washing.

The biblical account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet had a profound effect on the practices of early Christians.

Many church leaders and theologians like Augustine and Ambrose exhorted believers to follow Christ’s model of foot washing.

They viewed it as an act of humility, service, love, and an outward sign of inner purification. Some early church manuals and letters mention foot washing as a common practice.

Foot Washing as an Ordinance or Sacrament

While all early Christians did not practice foot washing regularly, some considered it an important church ordinance or sacrament.

Groups like the Benedictines made it part of their holy orders. Other churches like the apostolic and Pentecostal denominations adopted foot washing as an outward sign of inner grace and cleansing from sin.

Today, foot washing is still practiced regularly in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and other liturgical churches. It takes place in conjunction with Maundy Thursday services and reenacts Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet.

For these churches, foot washing carries deep spiritual meaning and signifies humble service towards others.


The foot washing incidents in the Gospels provide a powerful example of humility, servanthood, and devotion to Christ.

When we read these stories closely and understand their context, we gain wisdom that can profoundly shape our own walk with God if we apply the lessons to our lives.

While the act itself may seem strange to modern readers, the spirit behind it is just as relevant today. As believers, we are all called to serve one another, esteem others above ourselves, and care for those neglected or despised by society.

When we kneel to wash each other’s feet, figuratively speaking, we reflect Christ’s love to the world.

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