Naaman the Leper bathing in the Jordan River

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Today we are going to look for a few moments at our Lord washing the feet of the disciples. To gain better understanding of what was going on you have to understand that modern plumbing didn’t exist – people did not have the ability to just hop in a shower every morning. Indeed in biblical Israel, where water was scarce, bathing was often a momentous event, fraught with religious significance.

Generally they didn’t have bathtubs, rainwater would be collected (if it rained) and water poured from a jug over the bather’s body. They did however have a type of soap. Biblical references to bathing suggest that it was often something of a special event. A woman, for example, might bathe before an amorous encounter. The overwhelming majority of references to bathing in the Bible, however, have to do with ritual bathing. Before entering the temple or God’s presence the priests and Levites would all have a bath to purify themselves from any contamination, this marked off God’s space as holy and showed reverence for the divine presence.

But for most bathing was probably a communal affair, even ritual bathing, if you remember the story of Naaman the Gentile Army Captain and leper who the prophet Elisha told to go and bathe in the river Jordan, this instruction may now make more sense. He didn’t realise it at the time but what he was having was a ritual bath, to free him from the contamination of leprosy, and as he bathed God healed him. It wasn’t that he was not clean; it was a religious ritual bath. He didn’t realize and got angry about the instruction, but he did it anyway and was healed and afterword’s most grateful to the prophet and to God. A full immersion in water was more special still which lends at little more understanding to the act of Baptism.

But after your bath you still had to walk home down dirty dusty roads and while most of you remained clean, you would have to wash your feet when you got home. Jesus had to argue with Peter before he would let his Lord wash his feet, like a servant. Don’t make him argue with you about it…….we get baptised and then we go out into the grubby world full of sin; we need to come clean again in his presence at church on Sunday, in our contact with the world, parts of us become unclean again, maybe your feet, maybe your mind or some other part, whatever part it is – most of us don’t need another baptism, we just need to let the Holy Spirit come and let Jesus wash that part clean once more, before we walk back out into the world, stop fighting him and let him wash the bits he needs to wash.