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John 13:1, NIV1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
November 23, 2011On the traditional church calendar, Holy Week begins with the noisy and festive ride Jesus took into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (John recorded that in the middle of chapter 12). The remainder of Holy Week is commemorated in various ways, or sadly ignored until Easter morning. When I was a child, we emphasized Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on Wednesday, pondered the Last Supper and received the communion bread and the fruit of the vine on Thursday, then on Good Friday we held a 3-hour vigil by the cross starting at noon. Saturday was a somber day of silence and of course Easter began early in the morning with the proclamation that "Christ is risen!"
It seems likely the events in this text occurred on Thursday either before, or as part of, the meal we know as our Lord's Last Supper. This is the Passover chosen "beforehand" at which time Jesus would sacrifice his life for the sins of the world.
The mental attitude of Jesus in this verse is important. Death meant going home to the Father. His identity was very clear. He had come from God and was returning to God. His own death was also about love. Love to the fullest and most inclusive extent. In other words, love as only God could love.
Death meant departure. Jesus was leaving his little band of disciples. He couldn't go to his Father without leaving them behind. John is signaling a major event coming up. Jesus now showed them the full measure of his love--Is this a reference to his soon-to-happen sacrificial death on the cross?
John 13:2-5, NIV2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
November 24, 2011The evening meal. The devil at work among them. Betrayal. Power. Coming and returning; sent out and going home. Then according to John, Jesus suddenly got up from the table, rolled up his sleeves, tied a towel to his waist, poured water into a basin and began to go from one disciple to another and washed their feet! Then he carefully and lovingly dried their feet with his towel.
We assume from the way John introduced the foot washing that this was the same meal the other gospels name as the Last Supper. John doesn't mention the bread and the wine, doesn't say anything about Jesus telling them it would be the last meal he would share with his disciples until they eat together once more in the kingdom of his Father. John doesn't mention the command to "do this in remembrance of me."
John's version of the Last Supper is entirely unique. He places Jesus on his knees, serving the needs of his disciples. I don't recall any other event in the gospels which is similar to this story. Also very prominent is the role of Judas.
Love puts us on our knees, not only in prayer for family, friends or strangers, but also in service to them. When we voluntarily accept a menial task because we love someone, the task takes on a whole new meaning. I can give the most humble chore dignity if I do it for Jesus' sake.
John 13:6-11, NIV6 He [Jesus] came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." 9 "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" 10 Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
November 26, 2011Peter is the disciple who always stands out from the crowd, always has something to say and an opinion to express. It was no different on this night. Peter seems to be embarrassed. He knows it should be the other way around. He should be washing the feet of his Lord and Master. Never, never, never will you do for me what I should be doing for you. You don't belong on your knees before me; I belong on my knees before you.
Once more, Jesus rebuked him. Peter had to submit, even though it made no sense to him. Jesus told Peter if he wanted to be his disciple, then he must grant Jesus permission to scrub between his toes. Peter certainly wanted to be a disciple of Jesus; so much so that Peter wanted Jesus to wash his hands and head as well!
It wasn't literally the water in the basin that made Peter clean. Everybody knows cleaning the feet does not make the whole body clean. Being clean held a greater meaning. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, his thoughts went much deeper than flesh and bones.
You, plural, are clean. Clean in the eyes of Jesus. Peter was far from perfect, so it has nothing to do with being faultless. Purity in the eyes of Jesus is probably closely tied to loving devotion. Do we love him, that is the question. A pure heart, clean hands and love for God are linked together in the Psalms.
Sometimes all that remains from the teachings of Jesus is a ritual which leaves us feeling empty. Washing with water makes the outside clean; there's something more required for inward cleansing.
Peter tried to resist and prevent Jesus from doing what he intended to do. Peter must have thought he knew better what the situation required than Jesus did! He thought Jesus was making a mistake. Peter is so real. He thinks just like us!
Jesus tried to explain to Peter that he could not see the whole picture. Therefore he couldn't understand and would just have to trust the goodwill of Jesus. There's a slogan I hear in some Christian circles--God is good, all the time. That too requires a lot of trust. Trust that God will do the right thing, provide whatever is most beneficial to all concerned, and that God can see the total tapestry while we can not.
John 13:12-17, NIV12 When he had finished washing their feet, he [Jesus] put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
November 28, 2011Whose job is it to do the menial tasks associated with community life? Who will change the diapers, wash the pots and pans, empty bedpans and clean up the vomit? Jesus was preparing to leave and he knew these types of questions would be a problem for his disciples. So he showed them what they would need to know.
And for those who treasure this story, foot washing will henceforth be an honor, not something relegated to an inferior. In fact, there are to be no inferiors within the fellowship of disciples.
It's a lesson we are not eager to learn. I am writing these words aboard a cruise ship where passengers don't have to do anything except be courteous to fellow passengers. Beyond that, any thing we want, just ask the steward and he will bring it to us. They wash our dishes, make our beds, scour our toilets, and clean up any mess we make.
That's not how it works in the kingdom of God. Among believers, we are to be servants to each other. There are no slaves, no inferior class. Jesus showed us how it's done; he has set the example for us. Happy are those who do not ask, "What's in this for me?", but say instead, "What may I do for you?" Jesus gives us his blessing when we know and follow his example.
We can underline verse 17 because it is so true. We will find happiness in serving. Even when it's not fun, there's a blessing tucked inside for anyone who will be faithful in obeying the words of Jesus. "Do this in remembrance of me" can be applied to all acts of kindness and to all menial tasks.