John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (EHV)
1 Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved those who were his own in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 By the time the supper took place, the Devil had already put the idea into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.
3 Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God. 4 He got up from the supper and laid aside his outer garment. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who asked him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus answered him, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but later you will understand.”
8 Peter told him, “You will never, ever, wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Lord, not just my feet,” Simon Peter replied, “but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus told him, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet, but his body is completely clean. And you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 Indeed, he knew who was going to betray him. That is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After Jesus had washed their feet and put on his outer garment, he reclined at the table again. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me Teacher and Lord. You are right, because I am. 14 Now if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 Yes, I have given you an example so that you also would do just as I have done for you. 16 Amen, Amen, I tell you: A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31 After Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify the Son in himself and will glorify him at once.”
33 “Dear children, I am going to be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may love as you love us through Jesus Christ. Amen.
St John’s account of the Last Supper Passover meal is surprising because something’s missing, and something’s added, compared to what we would normally expect.
You see, we expect to hear Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper during this Passover meal with his disciples as he does in every other gospel account.
But in John’s account we don’t get to hear Jesus taking bread, breaking it and saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.” We don’t hear Jesus taking the cup, giving thanks, and saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.
We don’t hear it because John assumed all his readers knew this already. He wrote his gospel account around 25 years after the other gospel accounts and so could assume his readers already remembered Jesus did these things, and had already been regularly receiving this meal together, but John wants his readers to remember a different and most surprising act of Jesus which isn’t mentioned in the other gospel accounts.
You see, what no-one else mentions is that, in the middle of that special meal, Jesus rose from the table, took off his outer clothing, tied a towel around his waist, and began to wash his disciples’ feet.
Now, this is surprising because people who were living at this time were always walking on dusty roads in sandals. This means that of course they had dirty feet, but they would normally wash their feet when they first entered someone’s home and not in the middle of dinner!
Also, this demeaning job of washing guests feet was normally be done by non-Jewish servants only (because it was such a demeaning and humble task), and certainly not by one’s Lord and Teacher!
But here, right in the middle of the meal, Jesus, their Master and Messiah, humbled himself to the lowly position of foreign servant, and washed his disciples’ feet!
But this isn’t the only surprise! The greater surprise is John wants us to know Jesus also washed the feet of Judas, even though Jesus knew of his impending betrayal by him.
In fact, to make it clear, John tells us before Jesus got up from the table, Satan had already entered Judas and that Judas would betray him. So, as Jesus washes their feet, John writes, Jesus “knew who was to betray him” (Jn 13:11).
John wants us to know Jesus not only does the undignified work of a servant in the middle of a meal, but he also does this humiliating work for the very one who would betray him.
Jesus takes into his hands the feet of his enemy, the one who was about to betray him, and he washes them in humble service and in holy love.
But why would Jesus wash the feet of the one who was to betray him?
For John, the answer is simple. He writes at the beginning of our text tonight, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (v 1 NIV).
Jesus, in this humble servant role, is showing the full extent of his love.
Jesus loves them all. He loves those who follow him as well as the one who betrays him. He loves those who ran away from him as well as the one who denies him. Jesus loves them all, in the fullest way possible to the last moment possible. This is the full extent of Jesus’ love.
Putting this into our own perspective, we probably all know someone who goes on and on about the wrong which was done to them. You know, perhaps their spouse was unfaithful, their father was abusive, they were bullied at school, or they experienced an accident or failure or disability which still hinders their life.
They seem to be defined by the evil which was done to them. They keep on portraying themselves as the victim or the one who is always treated unjustly. They’re constantly angry or depressed by what was done to them. They seem to go on and on about what happened and bear a grudge against the world, or at least against the perpetrators.
Jesus could have done that. He was certainly justified in any criticism against those who betrayed him, abandoned him, denied him, abused him, falsely accused him, and crucified him.
Even at this meal he could have put hatred for Judas at the centre of his life. He could have tried to turn the other disciples against Judas. He could have gossiped about Judas or spoken sarcastically. He could have hidden from Judas when he and the temple guards came to arrest him. He could have fought against Judas or excluded him from this precious meal. He could have passed over him when washing everyone else’s feet.
Jesus could have done any of these things. He could have placed Judas and his act of betrayal at the centre of his life and become filled with hate and resentment.
But Jesus chose to use this critical time of betrayal as an opportunity to love and serve.
His act of love is a divine, self-sacrificial love. His is a love which is patient and kind, a love which doesn’t envy or boast, a love which isn’t arrogant or rude, a love which doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth, and a love which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor 13:4–7).
This is God’s surprising and selfless love, which has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ. The love Jesus enacts surprises us when we hear how he loved and served those who opposed him, including us, after all, St Paul says: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
When faced with hatred and betrayal, Jesus responds with love and service. And this love didn’t end with the disciples that evening. Jesus’ love continues today. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus enacts his loving service as he cleanses us from sin and creates new hearts within us through faith.
As those touched, cleansed, and healed by the love of Christ, he calls us to live and love like him. As we hear how he loved those who betrayed him, denied him and abandoned him, he gives us that challenging command to love one another, including those who betray, deny and abandon us, because that’s the way he loves us.
Now, of course to love and serve those who hurt or betray us seems an impossible task, but remember, with God all things are possible.
You see, we often focus on the wrong things. As long as we’re focusing on the other person’s act of betrayal, on how much they’ve hurt us, then of course we’re not going to love or serve them, or even forgive them.
While we dwell on all the reasons not to forgive and love and serve, then of course we won’t do so. But remember what Jesus says to us: “As I have loved you…”
Therefore, we’re not to focus on how much we’ve been wronged, but we’re to focus on Jesus’ love for us.
We’re to focus on how Jesus forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We’re to focus on how Jesus welcomes sinners like us at his holy meal and personally hands us the bread as the host for his body. We’re to focus on Jesus’ precious blood which has been poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins.
Instead of letting any evil done toward us define us, we’re to let the love of Jesus define who we are and whose we are.
When we focus on Jesus’ surprising act of love on that very night he was betrayed, and respond accordingly, we may end up surprising those around us because we don’t act like everyone else. They may be surprised by the grace we share because we don’t hold grudges, we don’t attempt to get back at people, and we don’t gossip and complain. Instead, we love and serve as ones loved and served by Christ.
In a world where trouble, and hatred, and acts of revenge are commonplace, and in a life where we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, our Lord comes to offer us his grace-filled love to cleanse us.
In a world where all people have come to expect certain behaviours in the face of betrayals, abuse, bullying, and other forms of ‘unloveliness’, Jesus calls us to love as we have been loved by him, and so pass on the sacrificial love of God to fellow sinners.
In a world always dwelling on evil, we surprise them by living differently. This is because we instead dwell on the sacrificial love of Christ which compels us to humble ourselves in loving service to each other because we’ve been commanded to love as we’ve been loved by Jesus.
And it’s in this way, that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in the love and service of Christ Jesus. Amen.