Summary: The action of Jesus washing the disciples feet is action based, rooted in concrete activity, and had to be done.
But… well… feet are dirty!
John 13:1-17 Aug 22, 2010
The week had been stressful. Full of tension, danger, confrontation. The small band of men had been challenged, and though they hadn’t won they also hadn’t been destroyed. Yet. The opposition was strong and gaining momentum, and on more than a few occasions this past week they had barely made it out intact.
What was worse, their leader was showing signs of cracking. He was still functioning, still engaging, but privately some of the things He was saying were starting to sound like maybe He was giving up, like maybe He’d had enough. Some stuff was characteristically brilliant, but other stuff was making some of them wonder if He’d actually lost it.
Tonight was a night off. They were eagerly looking forward to letting their guard down, sharing a good meal, relaxing in relative safety, maybe re-group and get re-focused and re-engaged. After all, a lot was at stake.
They arrived for the meal, each consumed with their own thoughts, their own agenda, their own hopes for this evening. Maybe an exit strategy – slip quietly away for a while before picking up the fight; maybe a pep-talk where their leader could once again rise and inspire them and get them fired up again and feeling great. Maybe He’d even tell them what was really going on. Each had their own ideas, but they all hoped for both a brief respite and a strong reconnection to each other and their mission. And as they wandered in and took their places, each was eager to get to the heart of the evening.
Perhaps that was why they all missed it. Too self-absorbed I guess, too focused on their own agenda and ideas, and too full of pride and self-importance. But they missed it all right…
On top of it all, this was no ordinary meal. Tonight was a special celebration, one full of tradition and symbolism. The meal was about the past, about the glory days, remembering “the good old days”, and, well, there were just certain ways it was supposed to be done if it was going to be done properly. Like turkey or ham at thanksgiving, or presents at Christmas – that is just how it is supposed to be. It’s just how it has always been. It’s how we do it around here…
But wait. Something is different here. Why is He… Doesn’t He understand? He is the leader, He is supposed to be in charge, He is supposed to take the position of honor and lead the meal, He should be above the mundane tasks and attend to the important stuff, what does He think He is doing? Where are the servants – that is their job! Maybe He has lost it, maybe He doesn’t want to lead anymore, maybe this is His way of resigning and wanting someone else to take over. But no one else could… there is just no way…
This isn’t right! This is offensive!! He’s not even properly dressed anymore, He just stripped down to His underwear, He looks like a common slave. He has a towel, and a basin of water – He should be at the head of the table reading the Scriptures, doing the prayers, reminding us of the great symbols of the past and helping us connect to them. Leave the serving to the slaves.
An awkward silence. No one really knows what to do, how to respond. One does, tries to resist, tries to protest, but it does not go well and the Master washes his feet, just as He had done to each of the others in the band.
Then He comes to me. He kneels by my feet. He slips my dirty foot out of my sandal, places it in the basin, and begins to wash. I know my feet, this is not a pleasant task. Part of me wants to pull away, because this just isn’t right, but I am stunned, and so just watch. I feel the cool water, feel the scrubbing, and then the towel that wipes them dry. My throat has a lump, my eyes fill with tears, and He moves on.
John 13:1-17 (NLT)
1 Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.