Commentary

Washing feet

It’s not hard to see how the custom of foot-washing arose in the Ancient Middle East. People walking barefoot or in sandals on dry, dusty earth must have had perpetually dirty feet, so washing them before entering a building was a compelling matter of housekeeping.

It also became a ritual, however, with a host honoring his guests by washing their feet. The most famous example of this is in John 13, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.

The spiritual meaning of washing is purification – cleaning the mind spiritually much as water cleans the body naturally. “Feet” represent our lives on the natural level – the day-to-day outward thoughts and actions that absorb so much of our time. Washing the feet, then, symbolizes purifying the natural level of our lives, applying what the Lord teaches us to our outward, ordinary actions.

Think of it this way: Are you nice to the cashier at the grocery store? Can you forgive someone who accidentally cuts you off in traffic? Do you hold the door for strangers? Such small things may be signs of good clean feet.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3147 [1,8], 10243 [1-3]; John 13:5, 13:6, 13:8, 13:9)

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #10243

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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10243. 'They shall wash with water' means purification effected by means of the truths of faith. This is clear from the meaning of 'washing' as purification from evils and falsities, dealt with above in 10237; and from the meaning of 'water' as the truths of faith, also dealt with above, in 10238. Anyone who does not know what 'washing' means, nor what 'feet' and 'hands' mean, cannot possibly know what is implied by the following words in John,

Jesus poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the linen towel with which He was girded. And He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, Do you wash my feet? Jesus answered, What I am doing you do not know as yet; but you will know afterwards. Peter said to Him, You shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me. Peter said to Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and head. Jesus said to Him, He who has been washed has no need except to wash his feet, but the whole person is clean. Already you are clean. John 13:5-10.

Is there anyone who can know what the real meaning is when the Lord said, 'What I am doing you do not know as yet, but you will know afterwards', also 'If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me', as well as 'He who has been washed has no need except to wash his feet', and 'the whole person is clean'?

[2] These words refer to purification from evils and falsities, but no one can know of this except from the internal sense. From this sense it is evident that 'washing' is used to mean purification from evils and falsities; 'water in a basin' to mean the truth of faith within the natural; 'the linen towel' which the Lord was girded with, and which He used for wiping, to mean Divine Truth emanating from Him; 'feet' to mean the natural level in a person; and 'washing the head, hands, and feet' to mean regeneration, as is 'he who has been washed', so that 'washing the feet' is used to mean purifying the natural level in a person. Unless this level with a person is purified and cleansed while he is living in the world he cannot ever be purified after that. For whatever a person's natural level is like when he dies it remains the same; no improvement takes place afterwards, for it is the level into which interior things, that is, spiritual ones flow, and it is their receptacle. Consequently when it has been perverted the interior things are similarly perverted on flowing in. The situation is like that with the eye or any other sensory organ or a member of the body when it has been damaged; inner abilities to perceive or to act by means of that organ or member are conditioned by the state of reception there.

[3] A person's inability therefore ever to be purified if his natural is not purified in the world is the meaning of the Lord's words, What I am doing you do not know as yet; but you will know afterwards. The fact that nothing except the natural needs to be purified in one who has been regenerated is the meaning of He who has washed has no need except to wash his feet, and of the whole person is clean. And the accomplishment of all purification by the Lord alone is the meaning of If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me. The accomplishment of it by means of the Divine Truth which emanates from the Lord is meant by His wiping with the linen towel with which He was girded.

'A linen towel' means truth from God, see 7601, so that 'the linen towel with which the Lord was girded' is Divine Truth from Himself.

'Water' means the truth of faith, 10238.

'A basin' or a laver with water in it means the natural, 10235.

'Washing the head, hands, and feet' - that is, the whole body - means regeneration, 10239, 'feet' being the natural within a person, 10241.

From all this it again becomes evident that the Lord spoke by means of correspondences, thus in accordance with the internal sense, since He spoke from heaven's point of view, where that sense exists. Consequently there is little understanding of the Lord's Word unless it is understood on that level of meaning.

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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 10247

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 186, 209


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 240

Other New Christian Commentary

Washing feet 1

Wash 1


Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.


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