In ancient Israel, many ordinary people would have gone about their daily business barefoot. Footwear, for those who did use it, consisted of sandals, which were little more than a sole strapped to the foot and ankle. Since roads and fields were dusty or muddy, people’s feet would inevitably get dirty.
It was the custom, therefore, for a person to remove his sandals upon entering a home. Hospitality required that a guest’s feet be washed. This task would be performed either by the householder or by a servant. The Bible contains a number of references to this common practice. For example, Abraham said to visitors to his tent: “Let a little water be taken, please, and you must have your feet washed. Then recline under the tree. And let me get a piece of bread, and refresh your hearts.”—Genesis 18:4, 5; 24:32; 1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:37, 38, 44.
This background information throws light on Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet during his last Passover with them. On that occasion, there was no householder or servant to perform this service, and evidently none of the disciples volunteered to do it. So by taking a basin of water and a towel to wash and dry his apostles’ feet, Jesus gave those men a lesson in love and humility.—John 13:5-17.