Gospel: John 13:1-15
Revelation and Mission
What responsibilities does reception of the Eucharist place upon you?
What sort of God do we reveal to others? A simple question with a difficult answer. Of course, we Christians insist God is love. God loved us so much he gave his Son for the salvation of the world. But, for many people, that's just worn-out rhetoric. If God is love, these people ask, why aren't Christians more loving? (Or loving at all?)
In a simple, humble act of service, Jesus revealed what sort of God we worship. And he gave us a command to act in the same way.
1 On the day before Jews would celebrate Passover, Jesus realized that the time would soon come when he would leave this world and return to his Father. He also understood that he loved the friends he left behind in the world. Jesus would love them to the very end.
2 Jesus and his friends sat down for supper. The devil had already tempted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to turn Jesus over to the Temple leaders. 3 Jesus realized that the Father gave him the power to do anything he wanted to do. Jesus also knew he came from God and he would soon return to God. 4 At that point, he got up from the table, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist. 5 Next, he poured water into a large bowl. Finally, he began to wash his friends' feet and dry them with the towel tied around his waist. 6 When it was Peter's turn, he objected, "Lord, why are you going to wash my feet?"
7 "You won't understand what I'm doing now. But you will soon,"Jesus answered.
8 "No! You should never ever wash my feet!" Peter stated.
"You are not my friend unless I wash you," Jesus replied.
9 "Then, Lord," Peter said, "don't just wash my feet. Wash my hands and head, too!"
10 "The one who took a bath doesn't need to wash, except his feet. He is already clean," Jesus replied. "You are clean, but not everyone here is clean." 11 Jesus knew who would turn him over to the leaders. This is the reason why he said, "Not everyone here is clean."
12 After he washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and sat down at the table. "Do you understand what I just did for you?" Jesus asked them. 13 "You address me as 'Teacher' and 'Lord.' That's what you should call me because that's what I am. 14 But, if I, your Teacher and Lord, wash your feet, you should wash each other's feet. 15 This is the example I give you. What I do, you should do."
John's "Washing of the Feet" can be divided into three sections: the washing and Jesus' insight, Peter's objection, and Jesus' command to do likewise. All three sections highlight what Eucharist meant to the Johannine community: service.
1 But, (the day) before the Passover festival, JESUS, having seen (in his mind) that his hour arrived that HE might leave this world toward the Father (and) having loved HIS own, those in the world, loved them to the end. 2 When there was supper, after the devil had already placed (the desire) into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, that he might give HIM over (to the leaders), 3 having seen (with the mind) that the Father gave everything to him into (HIS) hands and that HE came from God and would go back to God, 4 HE rose up from the dinner, laid down (HIS) mantle, and, having taken a towel, tied it around (HIS waist). 5 Next, he poured water into a washbasin and HE began to wash the feet of HIS disciples and to dry (them) with the towel which he had tied around (HIS waist).
13:1 "(the day) before the Passover festival" The time frame was implied by the context of the verses in John.
"to the end" can also be translated "completely." Jesus loved his followers to the end of his life. Or, he loved them as much as one can love another (i.e., completely). Or, both.
13:4 "HE rose up from the dinner, laid down (HIS) mantle" The two verbs in this clause referred to Jesus' death ("laid down" mantle) and resurrection ("rose up" from dinner). Both pointed to the third verb of the sentence that painted an image of service. Jesus died and rose to serve everyone.
John opened the scene of the Last Supper with a moment of clarity for Jesus. Jesus realized his place, his power, and his calling. He came from God and would return to God. He had all the power his Father gave him. And he would soon leave the world in his death and resurrection.
Jesus also realized why he came: love for his followers. Despite the caveat of Judas in 13:2, these verses led up to the act of love he would show his followers: the washing of their feet. The note on 13:4 above clarified the connection between Jesus' hour and this act of love. Because Jesus came from God, because he had the power to lay down his life and take it up again, because he was all-powerful like his Father, he could tie a towel around his waist and wash his followers' feet. Because he was God, he could so humiliate himself. All for love.
6 Then he came to Simon Peter. He said to HIM, "Lord, (are) you (to) wash my feet?" 7 JESUS answered and said to him, "What I do you do not see (with your mind) now, but you will know after these (events)." 8 Peter said to HIM, "No, you should not wash my feet, (even) unto the age (of the Kingdom)." JESUS answered him, "Unless I wash you, you do not have a part with me." 9 Simon Peter said to HIM, "Lord, not only my feet alone, but (my) hands and head!" 10 JESUS said to him, "The one having been washed does not have need to be washed, except the feet, but he is entirely clean. You are clean, but not everyone (here)." 11 For he had seen (in his mind) the one giving him over (to the leaders). Because of this, HE said, "You are not all clean."
13:8 "No, you should not wash my feet, (even) unto the age (of the Kingdom)." This sentence actual has two negatives to emphasize Peter's extreme disapproval. "unto the age" meant "ever." So the sentence could be translated" "You should never ever wash my feet!"
Peter confused Jesus' service with the hospitality of a Jewish host. At the time of Jesus, Jewish homes had jars filled with water for ritual cleansing. When Jews entered a home, they would use the water to wash their head and hands as a means to purify themselves (make themselves ritually "clean"; see John 2:6). When Peter objected to Jesus' foot washing, he questioned the humbling (even humiliating) role of Jesus as servant. (In fact, some biblical scholars question whether even a Jewish servant would stoop to washing the feet of the master!) Jesus countered with a rejection of association, clearly something Peter cherished. Since ritual purity preceded table fellowship (one had to cleanse himself before he could eat with friends at a party), Peter insisted Jesus wash his head and hands as a sign of ritual "cleansing." Still, Peter missed the point. He was ritually "clean" since he had (presumably) done the washings.
Jesus had added a new level of association. No longer was ritual purification needed. No, to be a follower meant something deeper. A Christian willingly receives and gives service. A Christian "washes the feet of others," even those who would betray them. After all, Jesus did wash the feet of Judas!
12 When he washed their feet, took his clothes, and reclined again, HE said to them, "Do you know what I have done for you? 13 You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and well you say, for I am. 14 If, then, I wash your feet as Lord and Teacher, you also have obligation to wash the feet of each other. 15 For I gave you an example that just as I did for you should also do."
"Do this in memory of me." "For I gave you an example that just as I did for you should also do." When we compare these two commands of Jesus at the Last Supper, certain themes come forward.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians, Jesus invoked the command during the Words of Institution. In the context of the Eucharist, the reception of the Body and Blood marked the Christian. For, the Christian had a share in the Lord's pending death and resurrection. And a share in risen, everlasting life.
In John's Gospel, Jesus told his followers to serve others, even if that meant being a slave. This defined the Christ and his follower.
Receiving risen life and communal service actually compliment each other. One is a moment of revelation. The other is a moment of mission. As we read the Gospels, revelation entailed mission. (For example, when Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman responded by spreading the Good News; see John 4:25-26, 28-29.) When the two commands converge at the Last Supper, the questions became clear. What did the disciples encounter at the Last Supper? What were they to do with this encounter? They encounter the Lord and his risen life. They also made a commitment to serve each other as the Lord had served them.
How has the Eucharist strengthened your service to others?
Jesus gave us a revelation in an example of service. When he washed his disciples' feet, he showed them his Father, the God of love. When he gave his command to "do as I did for you," he gave us a responsibility to reveal the God of love through our love.
How do you plan to "wash the feet" of others this weekend? How will this act of love help you prepare for Easter?