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 follow the loving servant example of Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’d like you to imagine the scene…
You’re all going to the most important meal of the whole year. It’s more important than any 21st or 60th birthday party. It’s more important than any wedding. The meal is the Passover – the most important meal of the Jewish religious calendar!
Obviously, for such a special occasion, you’d all dress up appropriately. You wouldn’t wear your gardening clothes or your comfortable track pants to this meal. You’d make sure you’re clean and tidy, and then walk to the Passover meal.
But this is where the complication begins. You see, you’d all be walking barefoot or wearing thin sandals on dusty roads. None of these asphalt paths! Despite your best efforts to arrive clean, your cracked and calloused feet would be dusty and grimy from dirt and sweat.
As you enter the house, you might look around for some water to wash your feet, or at least hope for a servant to wash them for you, but in this case, there’s no water, and no slave.
You’re all hoping a slave would be here to wash your feet, because this task of washing feet is such a degrading act. It was only reserved for Gentile slaves. A good Jewish slave would never want to stoop down and wash another person’s feet because it’s too degrading!
Of course, one of you could go and fetch some water to wash your own and each other’s feet, but everyone’s hoping someone else will do it. None of you really want to act like a slave and humble yourself below everyone else.
In the end, you all sit at the table with dirty feet. But, unlike today’s meal tables where your feet go under the table, you instead recline at the meal table with your faces and hands near the food, while your dirty feet would be as far away from the food as possible.
Like many special mealtimes, you’re all trying to get the host’s attention and make out you’re the most important or impressive person at the table. You try to impress each other with your jokes, your intellect, your knowledge, or your loud voice. A common argument breaks out again – you know the one – who’s the greatest among you?
But, before you know it, your host has left the table and you hear running water splashing into a bowl…●
(each time ● appears, water was poured into the baptismal font or another bowl)
You all turn toward the noise and you see the host, your highly esteemed teacher, Jesus, pouring water into a bowl, with a towel around his waist. ●
The shock of seeing your Lord do this suddenly hits you! Only slaves would do this – and only Gentile slaves at that! This isn’t a job for your honoured host! The room is shocked into silence except for the pouring water ● and the methodical movements of Jesus.
As your eyes look down at your feet, your face flushes with shame. Perhaps one of you should have grabbed some water and done this demeaning task, but your pride stopped you.
Now your Lord, the teacher you’ve been following for so many years, the one who performs amazing miracles and raises people from the dead, is the one who humbles himself and stoops down to wash your dirty feet!
Jesus kneels at Matthew’s feet to wash them. He next moves to Andrew’s feet and washes them with the water, gently massaging his tired feet with the towel. Bartholomew is next to receive Jesus’ washing.
One by one Jesus washes the dirt, the dust, and the grime from your tired feet, wiping them dry with his towel. James, John, Judas, Thomas. One by one you all feel ashamed he needed to do this demeaning act on you because you thought yourselves above such a lowly task. Philip, Nathanael, you, me, and then Peter.
For Peter this was all too much. How could he let his Lord wash his feet? He could wash his own feet, or at least see if someone else would do it, but not Jesus! No, Jesus should not be doing this demeaning thing! Peter would rather honour Jesus by doing something for him than let Jesus do this lowly act for Peter. He wasn’t yet willing to admit Jesus had to do everything for him. There was no other way, because that’s why he came.
So, Jesus insists once more, saying unless Jesus washes him, he’ll have no part of him. So Peter goes to the other extreme. Typical Peter – he could never be just like everyone else. He always had to be different! He says: “In this case Jesus, wash all of me, not just my dirty feet.”
But Jesus replies: “A clean person only has to have their dirty feet washed.” Peter’s already clean except for his feet. Just a splash of water and the act would be complete…●
Most likely none of you will remember it, but you’ve all seen it done to others. In this case, it wasn’t done to your feet.
A splash of water. ● The holy name of God spoken with the pouring of that water. And once again Jesus kneels to wash away the dirt and grime of sin from a person. In this holy act, Jesus himself, wearing the mask of a chosen servant, comes time and again as a slave to wash us all clean.
Jesus says, “If I wash you, you will be clean”. In your baptism, Jesus washes you, and you become a part of Jesus – made clean, pure, and holy as he joins you to himself. He did it all. There was no other way. He had to do everything for you, your forgiveness, and for your salvation. That’s why he came.
Through your baptism into Jesus, you receive all the benefits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It’s not just a washing, but a joining to Jesus and all his benefits. It’s a reception of his life and death. It’s a new birth into eternal life in his kingdom.
But life in his kingdom, with all its heavenly privileges comes with responsibility and service. In this act of washing, Jesus was preparing his disciples for service. The greatest becomes the least. The Lord becomes the slave. The host becomes the servant.
Jesus’ actions of washing is a living example of this service which extends all the way to the cross, and you who have received the benefits of his service to you on the cross, are to love and serve as he does.
He reinforces this teaching of servanthood and humbleness when he says to you tonight: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)
Jesus demonstrated his love for you through his humble and demeaning act of service for those around him. This is the kind of love he’s talking about.
The kind of love that swallows pride. The kind of love that gets down on its knees in service. The kind of love that washes dirty and unattractive feet. The kind of love that insists for the sake of the person being served. The kind of love that consider the other person more important. The kind of love that would even put its life on the line for unworthy sinners.
As you become part of Jesus, and as you’ve received his love and service, you’re to co-operate with the work of the Holy Spirit as you love and serve in the same manner.
Rather than hoping someone else is going to serve, the love of Jesus acts. Rather than thinking oneself above an act, the love of Jesus would stoop down and work. The love of Jesus is willing to sacrifice oneself for selfish, stubborn, recalcitrant, proud, and cantankerous people like you and me. The love and service of Jesus is a natural by-product of our faith in him.
Here, when you gather as one family around the table of the Lord, Jesus comes to serve you and wash you clean by his holy and innocent blood. He stoops down from above and willingly went to the shameful cross to suffer and die the punishment you deserve so that you don’t have to. He also came to love and serve you so that you may be equipped for love and service. It has to be this way. This is why he came. He loves and serves you so that you in turn can love and serve those around you.
●The sound of water reminds you of Jesus’ service to those around him, but it should also remind you how he equips you to love and serve in like manner.
Brothers and sisters who have been washed clean by Christ, ● love one another as Christ loves you.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.