In the previous post, we learned that Jesus leads with love. Now we learn how he did so. Look at John 13, verses 2-5.
“The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, 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 around 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 around him.”
The scene is what we call The Last Supper. As we’ll see over the next few weeks, John’s telling of the Last Supper does not refer to communion, that famous event when Jesus breaks the bread and says “This is my body,” then holds up the cup and says “This is my blood,” telling his disciples they should celebrate that ritual in remembrance of him. Instead John focuses on what we just read, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.
John specifically mentions that Judas Iscariot was present. This is notable because Judas has already started planning to betray Jesus. In this intimate setting of Jesus and his closest friends, there sits one who already is far gone. We know Judas is sitting there because of what we will study next week, John 13:18-38.
Think about this for a minute. Jesus loves these men. Jesus is about to show them the extent of his love for them. That includes Judas, the one who will betray him. What’s more, Jesus by this time already knows that Judas will betray him. Again, that fact is confirmed by the section we’ll study next week. I mention it here because of what a powerful moment this is, Jesus showing love to the one in whom he has invested three years and yet who will in just a couple hours’ time betray him. Think about how Jesus must be feeling as he washes Judas’ feet.
Betrayal hurts no matter who you are. Remember that Jesus was not just 100% God, he was also 100% human, and he felt the full force of Judas’ betrayal. In college, a friend and I went to a concert. He was a good friend, and I was excited to spend time with him. In fact, he had reached out to me, inviting me to go to the concert. When we got to the concert, we bumped into an acquaintance. Not someone either of us was close to. But my friend decided to hang out with the acquaintance for most of the concert, and he barely paid me attention. It felt like a little betrayal.
I’m going to be vulnerable for a moment. Michelle and I often tell people who are thinking about going into ministry that even after 22 years of pastoral ministry one of the most difficult experiences is pouring into someone and then they decide to leave the church. Sometimes they leave for reasons you disagree with, and sometimes you don’t understand. Sometimes they leave in hurtful ways. No matter how or why, it stings.
Maybe you’ve been there. Jesus felt those feelings. Relationships can sting. And yet there Jesus is showing love to the one who had already begun planning to betray him.
What we see from Jesus at this moment is his astounding example of loving inclusivity. It is so difficult to include people who have hurt us. It is risky. They could hurt us again. But we Christians look to Jesus to teach us how to live, and here he shows us a uniquely Christ-like way of life. We love those who hurt us. We love those who betray us.
Whenever I talk about this, I need to include a word about boundaries. And this is where the video about being selfish (in the previous post) resonates. Jesus’ example of showing love toward even the one who would betray him does not mean that we should never impose any boundaries on the people who hurt us. “Boundaries” is a difficult word because when we place boundaries on people, they might not appreciate the boundaries, and they will tend to accuse us of being unloving. My response is that boundaries can be the most loving way to respond to those who harm us and our loved ones. Boundaries can keep the harm from reoccurring and is loving to all involved. Jesus certainly imposed boundaries on his disciples, on the crowds, on the religious leaders. He got away for time alone. He taught boundaries.
How did Jesus show his disciples love? We read that he washed their feet. Jesus took on the role of a servant. In our culture, we don’t wash feet as a part of meals and hangouts. We don’t live in a dusty area of the world. We wash our feet when we bathe, and that’s usually enough. In Jesus’ culture, it was a totally different story.
When I was in India in March, it was very dusty, like nothing I’ve seen here in Lancaster, at least in my lifetime. India has a dry season through the winter months, and the combination of lots of vehicles driving on dirt roads and no rain meant there was dust everywhere. I couldn’t shake a dry cough the whole month. We had dust all the time in our room. In the grocery store, there was a film of dust on all the products on the shelves. My running shoes got so dusty, I cleaned them in a trashcan with shampoo and a toilet brush. In a climate like that, especially when footwear was primarily sandals, as it was in Jesus’ day, your feet would get very dirty. So footwashing was normal at meals.
Apparently, no one had yet washed their feet or taken the initiative. So Jesus did. This was not ordinary. A leader, a teacher, washing their disciples’ feet? In that culture, what Jesus was doing was totally unexpected. This was a dirty, smelly job for the lower class. For servants. Jesus leads with loving servanthood.
That’s why Jesus’ disciple Peter responds as he does in verse 6, which we’ll look at in the next post!
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash