“Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.” John 12:3
“Then he (Jesus) poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:5
Sacrifice hurts. Sacrifice is hard. Love is sacrifice. In John’s gospel, Mary’s sacrifice foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice, both demonstrating the full extent of love.
Mary took a valuable possession, worth a year’s worth of common wages, and poured it over Jesus head, body, and feet, wiping his feet with part of herself. (See also Matthew 26; Mark 14) Her action was beyond convention or expectation. It was done at the expense of her money, her pride, and her reputation. It was an act of adoration and love that was despised by man, but commended by her Lord and friend. Mary was already doing what Jesus would soon call his disciples to do.
Jesus’ took a towel and wrapped it around his waist. He poured water into a basin. He took the position of a Gentile slave, defying convention and expectation, and washed the feet of the friends who would soon reject him. It was done at the expense of his pride, his rights, and his dignity. It was an act that was defiantly despised by one of his best friends, Peter, but commended by his Father. It was an action that foreshadowed and symbolized the humiliation he was about to endure and the complete washing that his death and resurrection would secure. For John, years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, it also symbolized a washing away of sins that baptism would symbolize for Christ followers for years to come. (Same language is used for baptism in Acts 22:16, I Corinthians 6:11)
John records Jesus’ take on his own actions. He tells his friends, “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.” Later he will tell them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you should love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12-13)
The first commandment these disciples would have known was to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus gave a new commandment, upping the ante, and deepening the love requirement. Now he compelled them to love sacrificially, like he did when he washed their feet and like he will do by bearing the penalty for the vileness of their sin in his humiliating death on a cross.
Jesus asks all of us who choose to imitate and obey him to do the same, to love sacrificially by “washing one another’s feet.” Washing feet may involve doing something you don’t want to do. It may involve not doing something you really want to do. It hurts. It’s hard. It requires confidence in the one who loves you so much that he would sacrifice for you. Will you humbly pour some water into a basin today?