St John’s Gospel (32): Jesus Washes the Feet of His Disciples (John 13)
A Reading of John 13 - “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. 2 During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, and *laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself…”
A Reflection on John 13 - It is still Epiphany in the Church Calendar, but as we look at the text, we zoom forward to Maundy Thursday. We find Jesus (in Jn 13) at the table. John 13 gives a unique example of simple, lowly service as love. Unlike the other Gospels, John gives us more teachings of Jesus at the Last Supper. The glorious collection of truths in John 13-17 begin with this teaching on love. “A new commandment I give to you.” And this teaching begins with an action, an enacted parable. All of the rich words of John 13-17 unfold just as Jesus unfolds the towel to wash (or “wipe” like Mary did to Jesus) the disciples’ feet. The dirt on their sandal-shod feet was not what we sweep up in the kitchen. It was the build-up of the filth of excrement, decaying animals, rotted food, the “waste” of open sewage which ran in the streets. It was the foul remnants of a defiled world. To clean this was the lowest servant’s work. It could not even be required of a Hebrew slave, in Israel only Gentile slaves could wash feet.
Jesus’s reason for taking this sub-human role is striking: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God -- rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about.” As the earthly ministry and mission of Jesus was about to reach its climax, as He was fully aware and this crested in His thoughts - What did He do? He arose to do the lowliest service to scrub off the filth of uncleanness. Jesus unexpectedly provides an action to explain His mission. He made vivid His teaching by this parable. We are to love one another. The next day, Good Friday, Jesus would love them in a more unimaginable way. He would do the work, not of a domestic (Gentile) slave, but of a domestic animal, a sacrificial animal. He would take upon Himself, not the filth of feet, but the blackest wickedness of all the world of evil men. His servanthood with the basin and towel, though shocking to His disciples, is only a small, small example of being the Suffering Servant for us: “And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore … He was pierced through for our transgressions” (Is. 53:3-5).
Christ served the service we should have served; he died the death we should have died; he obeyed the law you should have obeyed. Trust Him. Only if you get that love will you be able to love others, truly. If through Christ’s crossly and costly work, you have His love in you, What simple actions would show your love to others in your family, church or community?
Love is washing.
Love is sacrifice.
Love loves the unlovely.