Feet Washed With Tears
Only in Luke’s Gospel do we see the woman who was a sinner entering unbidden into the house of Simon the Pharisee, in which Jesus, as an invited guest, sat at meat. We see her bringing an alabaster box of ointment, standing behind Him weeping, and washing His travel-stained feet with her tears. She wipes them with the hairs of her head, and kisses His feet, and anoints them with the ointment.
In the other three Gospels we see another woman anointing Him from an alabaster box of very precious ointment. In the last of these Gospels we learn that the woman is Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus; a woman of quite different character than the anointer of Luke’s Gospel, and one who has quite a different purpose for anointing Him. In Matthew and Mark she pours the costly ointment on His head; but in John it is the anointing of His feet with which we are occupied. After she anoints His feet, she wipes them with the hairs of her head; whereas the woman in Luke wiped them before she anointed them.
In Luke’s Gospel the woman’s tears, hair, and kisses provide that which in common courtesy Simon the Pharisee should have accorded but failed to give his Guest. The tears of contrition eased somewhat the weariness of the long journey He had come as the Friend of sinners; the humility of the action of wiping His feet with her hair gave Him the comfort of further evidence that His coming had not been in vain; the kissing of His feet continuously showed that the love which brought Him down from the throne of glory was echoing in one heart at least in a world that hated God. And the anointing of His feet declared her appreciation of the fragrance of His daily walk.
There was no need at the Bethany supper for tears to wash His feet, for there He truly was the honoured Guest, to whom every loving courtesy would have been accorded when He entered. Futhermore, Mary had spent her tears on Lazarus, now raised from the dead and seated at the table with her Lord; and had kept her ointment, which might have been employed at Lazarus’ burial, against the day of His burying. Moreover, she was not occupied, as was the woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house, in any degree with her own unworthiness, but solely with Him, His worth, and the death He was about to accomplish. Consequently her hair was used on His feet for another purpose than was that of the woman in Luke’s Gospel. It was not used to dry His feet from tears, nor to wipe off the ointment she had poured on, but rather to wipe it in, that to the grave He might bear the fragrance of that nard. He bore it indeed far past the grave, for He Himself declared that wheresoever the glad tidings of the accomplishment of His death, burial and resurrection should be preached in the whole world, this also that she had done should be told for a memorial of her. So even today the fragrance of that ointment accompanies the telling of the gospel story.
There is another story of the washing of feet in the Gospels, and in it are the four priceless ingredients of the feet washing in Luke: tears, humility, love, and ointment. However, the order is reversed in this story in John, that is where we find it; love, humility, tears, and, well, the ointment sheds its fragrance over the whole account from first to last and can be breathed afresh whenever and wherever the tale is read or recounted. It is better here to quote it from Darby’s version than to attempt to retell it. John 13: “Now before the feast of the passover, Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end. (There is the love, love to the uttermost). And during supper, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon, Iscariote, that he should deliver Him up, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given Him all things into his hands, and that He came out from God and was going to God, rises from supper and lays aside His garments, and having taken a linen towel He girded Himself; then He pours water into the washhand basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the linen towel with which He was girded. (There is the humility—He humbled Himself) He comes therefore to Simon Peter; and he says to Him, “Lord, doest Thou wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do thou dost not know now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” Peter says to him, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash thee, thou hast no part with Me.” Simon Peter says to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus says to him, “He that is washed all over needs not to wash save his feet, but is wholly clean; and ye are clean but not all.” For He knew him that delivered Him up: on account of this He said, Ye are not all clean. When therefore He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, having sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? Ye call Me the Teacher and the Lord, and ye say well, for I am so. If I therefore, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet; for I have given you an example that, as I have done to you, ye should do also.”
“Verily, verily, I say to you, The bondman is not greater than his lord, nor the sent greater than he who has sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them. I speak not of you all. I know those whom I have chosen; but that the scripture might be fulfilled He that eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me. I tell you it now before it happens, that when it happens ye may believe that I am He. There are some of the tears. …
“Having said these things, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, that one of you shall deliver me up. (The tears again). The disciples therefore looked one on another, doubting of whom He spoke. Now there was at table one of His disciples in the bosom of Jesus, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter makes a sign therefore to him to ask who it might be of whom He spoke.
But he, leaning on the breast of Jesus, says to Him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is to whom I, after I have dipped the morsel, give it. And having dipped the morsel He gave it to Judas son of Simon, Iscariote. And, after the morsel, then entered Satan into him. Jesus therefore says to him, What thou doest, do quickly. But none of those at table knew why He said this to him; for some supposed, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus was saying to him, buy the things of which we have need for the feast; or that he should give something to the poor. Having therefore received the morsel, he went out immediately; and it was night.”
Certainly there is fragrance here, love, humility, and tears. Yet the washing of the tired feet of the disciples, in the lesson it gave them, in the momentary refreshing it brought to them, and in its perpetual refreshing as they pondered over it, was but a type of the greater washing of their walk.
“He that is washed all over needs not to wash save his feet, but is wholly clean; and ye are clean,” He had told them in replying to Peter. They were cleansed by the blood He was to shed for them within a few hours; their faith being as efficacious in anticipation of the work of the cross as ours is in retrospection. It took the tears, sweat, and blood of Gethsemane and Golgotha for the cleansing of their feet and for their washing all over. “Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26).
The love, the humility and the tears must come into service again whenever the feet of His saints are washed. “I have have given you an example,” He said, “that, as I have done to you, ye should do also.” We cannot effectively wash one another’s feet without love, without humility. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Nor can we do so without tears, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears, “Paul tells the Corinthians in speaking of the epistle sent to set them right regarding many matters. If we so wash the feet of our brethren, the fragrance of the act will be evident before God and men.