Summary: We learn the spiritual meaning behind Jesus washing his disciples feet.
LENT MIDWEEK 1 - 2004
“Do You Understand What I Have Done for You?”
Text: John 13:12
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them.
Dear Christian Friends,
Today we enter the season of Lent. Historically it has been a time in the church year set aside for God’s people to prepare themselves to celebrate the suffering and death of our Savior, and to look forward to his resurrection. In this way, the season of Lent is much like the season of Advent. That too is a time of preparation - preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas.
One of the best ways to prepare for something is by asking questions. Perhaps you can think back to your school days when you would prepare for tests by asking questions with a classmate. Pastors prepare students for confirmation by asking them questions. Communicants are directed to a series of questions and answers in the front of the hymnal to help them prepare for Holy Communion. Questions are often used to prepare people.
This year during Lent, we will use a series of questions taken from the Passion History of our Lord Jesus to prepare ourselves for the celebration of his suffering, death, and resurrection. The first question is one that we heard in our reading today: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” And as we consider this question, let us remember that Jesus asks this question after he has shown us his love and after he has seen how we live.
1. Jesus asks this after showing us his love.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus asked this question after washing the feet of his disciples in the upper room. Remember that St. John began that account with the words: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” (John 13:1) And the way Jesus showed his love for his own was by willingly condescending to do a job that was usually done by a household slave. He got up from his spot at the table, took off his outer robe, wrapped a towel around himself, and, after pouring water into a basin, began washing the feet of his disciples. This was a remarkable act of humility, even if we only look at it from the point of view that Jesus was the acknowledged teacher and master of his disciples. And yet the depth of Jesus’ condescension becomes all the more remarkable when we consider that Jesus was not just any teacher, but the teacher sent from heaven. He is truly the Son of God. Again go back to the words with which John introduced this account. There he writes: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God.” (13:3) No wonder then that Simon Peter was appalled and ashamed when Jesus came to wash his feet. He protested quite vehemently, “No, not my feet!”
And yet, the full extent of the Lord’s love for his own is not seen in this humble act of washing his disciples’ feet. For with this act of washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus was symbolizing another kind of cleansing, the kind he would use to wash them from their sins. That is clear from the way the Savior answered Simon Peter’s objection to having his feet washed, saying: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (13:8) With those words, Jesus indicated that his disciples needed to be washed clean, not only of dirt from their feet, but from the sin and guilt that stained their souls.
This second kind of washing Jesus would also perform for his disciples, but it would require a far greater humiliation than that which was needed to stoop down to wash dirty, dusty feet. For, in order to wash the sin from the souls of his disciples, Jesus had to bleed and die on the altar of the cross as the sacrifice to atone for their sins. But Jesus, in love, humbled himself to carry out that work. As St. Paul says of Jesus in Philippians 2:6-8: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!” That is what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand about his act of washing their feet. What he had just done for their feet with water and a towel, he would soon do for their souls, with his blood on a cross.