Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (New Revised Standard Version)
One of the reasons I like Jesus so much is that he loves me as I am, and not as I should be. Jesus loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. Jesus loved even Judas and washed his feet. Jesus serves people because they need his love, and not so that they will love him back.
I read about a man who lives in Paris. His wife has Alzheimer’s. He was an important businessman, and his life was filled with busyness. Yet, he said when his wife fell sick, “I just couldn’t put her into an institution, so I kept her. I fed her. I bathed her. Through the experience of serving my wife every day, I have changed. I have become more human. The other night, in the middle of the night, my wife woke me up. She came out of the fog for a moment, and she said, ‘Darling, I just want to say thank you for all you are doing for me.’ Then she fell back into the fog. I wept for hours to know this grace.”
Sometimes Christ calls me to love people who either cannot or will not love me in return. They live in the fog of some sort of disability, depression, poverty, or common spiritual blindness. As I serve them, I may only receive brief glimpses of gratitude. Just as Jesus loves me within my own spiritual confusion, so I desire to continue loving others as they walk through whatever fog they are in.
Lord willing, my life will be useful through my words and my witness. If God desires, my life will bear fruit through my prayers, my service, and my love. Yet, the usefulness of my life is God’s concern, not mine; it would be indecent of me to worry about that. I simply desire follow my Lord’s example.
Neither many Christians nor churches wash feet anymore. So, the following is today’s Gospel lesson put in a slightly different context:
It was just before the biggest and most important feast of the year, Passover. Jesus knew that it was finally the time for him to face the cross and die for the world’s sins. Having spent the past three years loving his followers, he now wanted to leave them with a clear demonstration of his love that they would never forget.
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already gotten a hold of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to those who wanted him dead and gone. But it was all according to plan. Jesus knew that his heavenly Father had given him all authority because he was his Son, and he was ready to do what needed to be done to secure salvation and return to his rightful place at his Father’s right hand. So, Jesus got up from the meal, rolled up his sleeves, put an apron on, and ran a sink full of hot water. Jesus told the servants to take the night off, and he began taking the dishes from the dinner table and started washing them, taking care to do all that waiters and dishwashers would do.
When Jesus came to take care of Simon Peter’s dishes and serve him dessert and coffee, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to serve me?” Jesus replied, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this since it seems like something that is beneath me to do, but later you will look back on this night and understand completely what I am doing.”
“No,” said Peter, “this is not right – you are the Master, and this is not what a well-respected rabbi does – you are only disrespecting yourself and making us all look foolish. You are not going to take my dishes and wash them.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash these dishes and serve you, you are not going to be able to follow me anymore and you will have no part of what I am doing in this world.”
“Well, then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “if that is the way it really is, then don’t just wash the dishes – come on over to my place and clean out the fridge and scrub the kitchen floor!”
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a decent meal needs only to wash the dishes so that he can enjoy the freedom of hospitable relationships with me and those around him. And all of you here have had a decent meal, though not every one of you.” For Jesus knew that Judas was only picking at his food in anticipation of betraying him.
When Jesus was all done washing the dishes and serving his disciples, he took his apron off, rolled his sleeves back down, and returned to the table. He looked them all squarely in the eye and said, “Do you understand what I just did for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so, for that is exactly what I am. So, now that I, your Master, and your Teacher have washed your dishes, you also should wash one another’s dishes. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I am telling you the plain truth that no follower is greater than the one he follows, nor is a preacher greater than the one he preaches about. Now that you know that it is your task in this life to provide humble loving service, you will have God’s stamp of approval on your life if you quit thinking about how to possess and use power for your own purposes and start thinking about how to use the authority I am giving you to love other people into the kingdom of God.
Loving Lord Jesus, how shocking it was for your disciples to be served by you in such a humble manner. But I cannot be spiritually cleansed unless I allow you to love me in an almost embarrassing fashion. Help me not to be so proud that I neither refuse your humble loving service toward me, nor neglect to offer that same kind of service to others. May love be the word, the idea, and the action that governs my every motivation and movement in your most gracious Name, I pray. Amen.