The Gospel according to John 13:1-17, 31b-35
The story of the last supper in John’s gospel recalls a remarkable event not mentioned elsewhere: Jesus performs the duty of a slave, washing the feet of his disciples and urging them to do the same for one another.
1Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus asks this question of his disciples after washing their feet but today we too hear this question and are called to answer. The answer for the disciples seems quite straight forward. Jesus washed their feet. He assumed the position of a slave to ritually wash the disciple’s dusty feet before mealtime as a show of love and hospitality. While uncomfortable and unusual for the teacher to do this for his students, the sentiment was easily understood: Jesus loved them and wanted to show them to what extent that was true. The action of washing however had a much deeper meaning than those gathered would have
thought, and implications for how their life was to continue after Jesus was no longer with them.
Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus tells his disciples, yes, he humbled himself and served those whom he loved but he did so also as an example of what they themselves should do. Jesus does not ask for repentance from the one he knows is about to betray him. He does not speak lofty about what a great, benevolent teacher he is. He shows love through humble service, in a way much more impactful than any sort of speech. Jesus, son of God, insisting on taking the role of a slave, serves even his betrayer. In a moment where everything is about to change and things themselves have already changed after having entered into Jerusalem, Jesus chooses to let his love take center stage. Making love be remembered, not our own human sin. We do not get attacked for having pulled away from God before he was to be put to death for our salvation, we get Jesus again showing self-emptying love, hoping, praying, that those around him will understand. Do you know what I have done for you?
Jesus knew this was nearing the end of his time on earth, with those he had tried to show the way of faithful love and service to God and to neighbor. It is during these last times that he chose to give of himself and show that the love he had talked about was not dependent on anything about the person to be loved. It did not matter what they had done, if they were ritually pure, if they were the right ethnicity or had earned love or evening a loving response. Jesus humbles himself to love the person it is often the hardest for us to love, someone who betrays us, our trust, or our sense of what is right. In the face of humanity turning, it’s back on God, God nevertheless turns ever more closely to us. The foot washing isn’t to change anyone’s mind or change Jesus’s fate, it is a visible, tangible sign of what has been the story all along- although we have fallen away from God and perfect life in sin, we are not beyond help. Do you know what I have done for you?
The disciples’ worlds are about to be turned upside down, their day-to-day experiences will shift to the shadows, as they will fear for their very lives. The very things they put their utmost trust in will be thrown into question. The person they most relied on for meaning and guidance will no longer be beside them. They will start to doubt those around them and look on them with suspicion as one of their own proved to have been overcome with sin and greed. We too have worlds that have been turned upside down in the last year. We have mostly retreated from our busy, public lives. The power of government and science to protect us has proven some of its potential, but largely its limits. We fear and mourn for our vulnerable loved ones, and we wonder when things will return to normal, or what that new normal will be. The question however still echoes, begging to be answered. Do you know what I have done for you?
Do you know what I will do for you? Do you know how far I will go to show my love for you? Do you know just how incomprehensibly beloved you are? And then, we hear an answer. I don’t think you do, says Jesus. But I will show you all the more. You will only fully come to understand these things if you continue to dwell in the tremendousness of God’s love by sharing it and showing it to one another. Go and do likewise.
We must go and do likewise. The text, the message now turns to us. We who are leaving home minimally, washing our hands, working, or connecting with loved ones online or over the phone. We too are called to show love to those around us, and although we cannot get close enough to one another to wash feet, we can still let God’s love be known. The answer to the great uncertainty of these times is the answer Christ showed time and time again to all uncertainty, death, suffering, and betrayal- unbelievable, extravagant,
Washing feet looks different now but the intention remains, to make God’s love known. Many of our council members have been calling, emailing, writing to members to check up on them, see how they are doing, and make sure they can remain connected to our church community, no matter their circumstances. Others of us in our community have been spending more time calling friends and family throughout this year, to make sure they feel loved and not alone. We have continued to donate to and volunteer with our neighbors at SOS, to make sure the most basic, tangible form of love is still freely given – fresh food for those who are hungry. It is in these examples and the free giving of time, resources, and reaching out to others in love that Christ remains and slowly is beginning to show us a way forward. Holding us firm for what lies ahead.
Jesus knew dark times were coming, and yet, he showed us that even in times when it feels like the world is standing still, our calling as followers of Christ is to love even more urgently. We do not know what comes next, but we do know how we are going to respond and continue forward. Even though we are 6 feet apart from one another, Jesus remains right next to us asking – do you know what I have done for you? Yes, God, we know. Strengthen us to do the same.