(for Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015)
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…
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘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.’ (John 13:1-17 & 31-35, NRSV).
Do the disciples really do know what Jesus has done for them? Two-thousand years later do we really understand?
The act of a teacher embracing the place of the common slave is clearly disconcerting for Simon Peter (and no doubt the other disciples). Peter is left off-balance – struggling to decide whether to reject or accept. He moves from insisting this will never happen to wanting to immerse himself in the opportunity. Peter’s wrestle reminds us just how out-of-the-box this is.
Jesus’ act of service is just so unexpected.
Of course, Jesus is only continuing to hold out his invitation to embrace the upside-down kingdom of God. Perhaps the edgy nature of this vision has not – so far – been demonstrated quite so clearly. Loving like this makes him dirty and wet. It is undignified: that sweaty towel; those bent knees shuffling across the dusty floor; his guiding of the bowl from one set of filthy feet to another.
Yet even now Jesus insists that he remains their ‘Teacher and Lord’. His stooping is not one of resignation. It is, rather, a continuation of his equipping them for God’s kingdom.
This is an example of the way God loves and the lengths they are to go to as they learn to love one another. The promise: it will be a source of blessing for any who imitate.
Perhaps eventually the disciples will see this not simply as a blessing to be conducted behind closed doors. It may start there, but somehow the message – the reputation – must find a path beyond their small gatherings.
This is a love to characterise the Christ-following community as they go ‘into all the world’. It is to become their call-card.
It leaves me wondering: What would happen to our mission if people had reason to believe that that we loved like this?