John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (NRSV)
The service of Christ: footwashing and meal
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. ...
"Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to foot washing over the last two weeks. As I have been exploring this practice with other Christians, I have been surprised to learn that many people do not understand this ancient, holy, and humble practice.
Almost two thousand years ago Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. But, today, in two thousand and ten, if you ask most Christians about foot-washing they say things like, “That’s gross! I don’t want anyone to touch my feet! I’m ticklish! That’s just weird.”
In some ways we are correct. Especially in Jesus’ day, foot-washing was considered gross. It was a task usually relegated to one of the lowest ranking servants in the house because people who had travelled in sandals over dusty and sandy roads covered in animal manure, had pretty dirty feet!
But, although the servant’s job was not coveted, the one who honored his/her guests with a foot-washing was considered a most outstanding host! Foot-washing was the first thing done upon entering a home and was a means of letting a guest know that they were welcome and honored in that place.
Having said all of this, we can now understand why it was no small thing that Jesus chose to wash his disciples’ feet! After all, we know that the disciples typically jockeyed to ascertain who was the greatest amongst them, not the least!
And yet, when Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around himself, dropped to his knees, and began to wash his disciples feet, I am sure that they experienced a profound paradigm shift!
How could it be possible that their leader and teacher would stoop so low as to wash their dirty feet? Why would it be that he would act like a servant when there were surely others who could have—and should have--done the job? What was Jesus trying to prove after all was said and done?
Well, Peter, never one to keep any thought to himself, voiced the many questions that must have been going through everyone’s head. He objected to Jesus’ desire to wash his feet, but was rebuked when Jesus said, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand…” and then again later Jesus said, “unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
Well, today, I recognize that most of us have the same questions and concerns that Peter did. And in response I can imagine Jesus saying to us today, “I am your Teacher and your Lord, but I am also your servant. Follow my example, by loving and serving others. You will be blessed, when you do so.”
What a radical response! Jesus teaches that in order to be truly blessed, we must pour out our lives in love and service to others. We must jockey, not to be the greatest, but to be the least. We must seek not to rule, but to serve.
Now, I am aware of how counter-cultural this message truly is. After all, we are taught to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, not to worry about stepping on the little guy on our way to the top, to seek to be Americas Idol, and to boldly answer in the affirmative when asked, “Who wants to be a millionaire?”
We know that we have arrived when we have someone to drive our cars, clean our houses, nanny our children, and/or carry our umbrella on a hot summer’s day.
But, Jesus says to us on this night, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
When I was engaged to be married, Christopher and I read a book together entitled, “Love is a Decision.” The central thesis of the book is that love is not a feeling, it is an action. Love is a verb. It is what you DO for another person.”
That thesis changed my life because in summary I learned that it doesn’t matter how I feel from day to day--feelings change and are variable based on my circumstances. But, if love is an action—whether or not I feel love--I can ACT LOVE until my feelings follow.
Rick Warren, the author of “A Purpose Driven Life,” says something similar. He asked, “How do you spell love? T-I-M-E.”
Again, we hear the injunction to remember that love is what you do. It is how you choose to invest your precious time.
And let me say this. I notice that Jesus chose to invest his time in humble acts of service! Foot-washing was as humble an act of love and service as the disciples could imagine Jesus undertaking, until the next day when he gave his life upon the cross.
In less than 24-hours Jesus showed his disciples—past and present—the truest meaning of love and service. He washed feet, served Holy Communion, and then died on an old rugged cross to make atonement for our sin and gift us with eternal life.
See, love ought to cost us something, friends! Service ought to beckon us to a place of greatest humility!
If all of the good deeds we accomplish offer us accolades, praise, and articles in the St. Cloud Times, we are doing something wrong.
1 Corinthians 13 says that love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
On this humble evening called Maundy Thursday, I am convicted by the words, “Love is not self-seeking.”
And I am compelled to ask myself the questions, “When was the last time that love cost me something? When was the last time I paid in blood, sweat and tears in order to bring service to another? Am I more comfortable offering the poor and oppressed charity rather than relationship? And when was the last time that I was made uncomfortable and/or truly inconvenienced as I followed Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”?
I am embarrassed to confess to you on this day that it has been a rare occasion when I have allowed love and service to lead me to a cross. Rather--I find that like most of us--I give out of my wealth and out of my abundance, which costs me nothing, rather than from a place of true sacrifice which would cost me much.
On this night, it is my fervent prayer, that all of us will hear and heed Jesus’ heartfelt call to a life of love and service that costs us something. It is my prayer that like Jesus—we will extend a warm welcome and radical hospitality to all people, offering love and service without counting the cost. And it is my prayer that as we die to ourselves, we will be raised to new life in Christ.
Hear ye the words of Jesus, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…if you have love for one another.”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen…
Let us pray:
Holy God, thank you for Jesus' new commandment to love one another. In a world so full of division and hate, I am blessed by your reminder to LOVE. I truly want to follow Jesus' example of love and service. Please forgive me of my sin and fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I will humbly meet the needs of others, as I lead them to Jesus. I pray this in Jesus' Name, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @ http://bit.ly/JVhaL