In those days, all roads to Jerusalem and those within the city were dry and dusty. Since most travel consisted of walking, feet were often the dirtiest part of the body. Because it was considered a lowly task, the ritual of foot washing was usually performed by a household servant. On occasion, the host would wash a guest's feet, but only if the guest was a close friend and of equal social status. But more commonly, water would be offered for guests to wash their own feet upon entering a home.
And yet, we read in John 13:13-15 that Jesus, the Teacher and Lord, washed his disciple's feet, presenting a different side of the law than that of the Pharisees. At that time, the Pharisees ruled the religious realm. They were known for their fine robes and extensive knowledge of the Scriptures. They were often seen on street corners, with their hands raised, praying in a loud voice for all to hear. They were quick to condemn even the smallest offender, while overlooking personal acts of injustice.
The Pharisees held the people in tremendous bondage to the law, careful that no unclean act was overlooked. They were appalled when they discovered that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, and mingled with people who were diseased and demon possessed because they considered them extremely unclean.
The Pharisees believed their position of leadership, including how closely they followed the letter of the law, entitled them to all the rewards of heaven. Jesus demonstrated just the opposite. The Pharisees believed they were saved from the wrath of God when in fact they were incurring it. They overlooked the heart of the law: to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves.
By example, Jesus was teaching his disciples that those who want to be great in God's eyes allow themselves to be less in the eyes of man. A true servant leader offers to perform tasks no one else will do. To serve as Jesus did for the benefit of another shows the deepest level of love and humility.