John 13: 1 – 17 Jesus washes his disciples’ feet
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’
Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’
‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’
Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’
‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’
Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
* * *
I wonder why this passage, like the raising of Lazarus, is only recorded in St John’s gospel? I don’t find any of the suggestions that I’ve read very convincing. If you want to read what the synoptic gospels say about the Last Supper, you can read it in Matthew 26: 17 – 30, Mark 14: 12 – 26 and Luke 22: 7 – 38.
However, that doesn’t seem the most important matter for my walk of faith at present. Out of this passage, three things really make an impact.
The first is the obvious one – the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Not merely does St John tell us what happened, he also tells us the explanation Jesus gave for his actions. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples just as a slave would have done, and he did so to show them what was meant by loving each other.
The second is Peter’s response. He had a deep emotional love for Jesus. The idea that this man he revered so much should act as his slave appalled him. He told Jesus that he wouldn’t allow him to perform so menial a task for him. Jesus rebukes him. There is no anger, merely a statement of fact: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ Peter, in his desire not to see Jesus abase himself has disobeyed him, and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of Jesus’ mission.
Peter realises what he has done, and wants to make amends; above everything, he wants to be a loyal follower of Jesus. ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’
We have to be obedient to Jesus even when we don’t understand why he wants something; and even when what he is asking for doesn’t feel right. It’s important.
Thirdly, Jesus washes our feet – today! There will be occasions in our life when Jesus will do things for us: to teach us, or to encourage us, or simply out of love for us. He is always our King, our Lord, our Teacher, but he shows us, in practical ways what it means to serve. What a wonderful person to have as our King!
And this leads on directly to the cross. If Jesus taking the role of a slave washing our feet is too much for us to stomach, how can we accept Jesus dying a slave’s death on the cross? How can we say that he did it for us?
Lord Jesus, I am not worthy of such a sacrifice but I thank you and bless you that you made it for me. You are the Son of God.
Thank you for Jesus’ life, his ministry, and his example. Thank you above all that he died for me. Help me to follow him and obey him. Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.