The Gospel of John tells a story not found in the other gospels which describes Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. He strips off his clothing and puts on a servants towel, he washes the disciples feet despite Peter’s objection and then has them wash each other’s feet (13:3-14). At first glance, the meaning of the story seems pretty clear. Jesus is taking the humble role of a servant and treating the young men to a relaxing foot bath and massage with some kind of vague allusion to servant leadership, right? That is certainly one way of reading it but it doesn’t explain Peter’s reluctance or his later suggestion of washing his whole body rather than just the feet. There is something else going on here which I intend to reveal.
Firstly there is the implication of the use of the word “feet”. While the text of the gospel is in Greek, it is written for an audience familiar with the Hebrew scriptures. So to understand how a first century Christian would understand the text, we need to first step out of the biases we’ve inherited from generations of ascetic and puritanical interpretations and look to the Old Testament to see how the story would have been viewed by its first readers. We must examine the feet of the forefathers.
Deuteronomy 28:57 describes childbirth as a young one coming from between a woman’s feet. 2 Kings 4:27 uses feet to describe a scene of a woman grabbing a man of God by the testicles (a direct violation of the commands in Deuteronomy 25:11); the man of God’s mercy protecting her from the usual consequences of the action. Proverbs describes a wicked man talking with his feet (6:13) and a harlot whose “feet” don’t live in her house is the description given to a woman having sex with men other than the husband whose house she lives in (7:11). Isaiah portrays the six winged seraphim as covering their feet for the sake of modesty. One can possibly conclude that a winged being probably doesn’t have particularly dust covered shoes so the angel’s modesty could reasonably be considered to be covering some other appendage below the waist. In the following chapter he describes men having the hair shaved from their head, beards and feet as a mark of shame to make them look like young boys (7:20), a kind of shaming similar to what was done to David’s servants in 1 Chronicles 19:4 and 2 Samuel 10:4 though both of those texts use more explicit language than Isaiah, the similarities of the descriptions are clear. Samuel also refers to “feet” to describe was Saul was doing in the cave when he unwittingly put himself at David’s mercy (24:3). Just in case the case isn’t crystal clear, Ruth 3:4 describes uncovering a man’s “feet” while being “on the floor” as a method of seduction after which he will have to marry her.
After studying these texts, it is clear that writers in the early Judaeo/Christian tradition frequently use a reference to “feet” when describing both male and female sexual organs. It isn’t as clear as being literal and specific. You can talk about feet and actually mean the things you walk on, and there are plenty of examples in the Bible where the writers do just that. Much as modern euphemisms like “sleep with” require context. To sleep with the light on has a vastly different cultural connotation than to sleep with young boys, though a literal interpretation would have the phrase hold the same essential meaning. There is an implied second meaning for “sleep” in modern English, just as there would be an implied second meaning for Jesus to “wash” his disciples’ “feet”.
This reading certainly doesn’t pretend to be evidence of Jesus being a paedophile. The disciples would have been at least 16 years old by this stage of the story in any case, and the holy hand job is implied but not implicit. John’s gospel is full of this sort of thing and certainly doesn’t skimp on the homoerotic imagery.
Anybody seeking to use this verse as evidence to support a theory of Jesus being homosexual is going to be sadly disappointed. One chapter earlier in John’s gospel there is another foot washing scene (adapted from Luke 7:36-39) which describes Mary giving Jesus a foot massage with expensive and fragrant oils and rubbing it in with her hair. Luke’s version of the story involving a sinful woman in the house of a Pharisee specifies that it was the hair of the woman’s head. John’s adaption of the story, as well as adding the provocative Mary who sits at Jesus feet (another euphemism that can be checked in Ruth 3 for contextual meaning) and relocating the scene to the house of Lazarus, also removes the specification that it is the hair of her head which she rubs against Jesus “feet”. To any Jewish male over the age of thirty, John’s implications in this verse would have been clear. Song of Solomon (5:5) describes in a style rivalled in modern times only by Mills and Boon, the physical act of love “I rose up to open to my beloved and my hands dropped with myrrh, my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock”. When John has Mary massaging her expensive oils into Jesus’ feet and rubbing his feet with her hair, the literal meaning is clear and the context gives little doubt that he is describing the kind of oil that could be sold to buy food for the poor and not the kind that drips from a woman’s “fingers” while the key is going in and out of the lock. Not explicitly anyway. The subtext however would have been just as obvious to his readers though as the implications of “washing” the disciples “feet”.
So if the messianic mutual masturbation story isn’t suggesting that Jesus was into the group thing and initiating an orgy on the night of the last supper for the sake of one final bang before getting penetrated by some large nails onto a hard length of wood, what is the intended meaning? I suspect that verse three holds a clue. Just before Jesus gets naked in front of his disciples, the gospel states that he “went to God”.
Genesis 16:4 says that Abraham “went to Hagar and she conceived”. The word we translate as “went to” is used throughout the Old Testament as a euphemism for sex. Again, this isn’t suggesting that Jesus was engaging in a physical act of intercourse with God in that moment. That would have been quite an accomplishment without leaving the dinner table. Throughout the Bible, the act of sex is referred to as becoming one flesh. A spiritual interpretation of this sexually charged language could therefore show that this verse is describing the true relationship between Jesus and God becoming one being while still being to separate entities. Jesus’ “went to God” then means that he became One with the God and that what he did next was acting as Jesus the Son of God rather than Jesus the Son of Man.
So it was in fact God who was giving a handjob to the disciples. But when Jesus becomes God, do the disciples remain the disciples? That seems highly unlikely. The disciples, whose number was twelve even though thirteen are named in the gospels, are commonly considered to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The disparity of the mysterious thirteenth disciple even matches with the disputed thirteenth tribe of Israel, though that may be taking the parallel further than the original author intended. Now our dinner guests have transformed their spiritual roles from human individuals to God and the tribes of Israel. So why is God jerking off the nation of Israel?
Isaiah 54:5 provides us with some clarification: “For your maker is your husband; Jehovah is his name. Your redeemer and holy one, He will be called the God of the whole Earth”
By having Jesus wash the feet of the disciples in the person of God, John is describing an act of sexual intimacy between God and his people as between a husband and a wife. The act of becoming as one flesh where it is no longer clear where God ends and his people begin. It is a promise that God will come and dwell in his people, penetrating them spiritually and ejaculating the seed of divine grace into every open womb of consciousness.
Further more, as Jesus then instructed his disciples to do for each other as he had done for them, the followers of Christ, now impregnated with God’s Holy Spirit and instructed to be as one flesh, connected to each other even closer than siblings, so that the world will see that ours is the true God of the world. This message is reiterated later in John’s gospel with Jesus explicitly stating “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (Jn 17:21 NLT)