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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 54 – John 13:1

Foot washing –Jesus and us

“Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

In this very striking and well-known episode Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. This story says some very significant things about Jesus, and therefore about God, and also gives some very specific instructions to his disciples and the church down through the ages. We will look at the first of these in this study and the second in the next one.

What Jesus did constitutes a visual comment on what Paul said in Philippians 2: 6 – 11, that is:

“Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus came from heaven down to this earth. He existed before he took on human form as a baby in Bethlehem; he was already the Son of God, joint creator of all that is. “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God”. He chose to suppress all those things that were part of his divine nature. So we see in this passage that he did not know that Judas would betray him when he chose him as one of his 12 disciples. It was his ability as a man to read the thoughts and intents of the people round about him that enabled him to see what Judas was going to do.

What Jesus proceeded to do is quite extraordinary. Presumably the evening meal that was in progress was a very private affair; so private that there were no servants present in the room. It was usual for any foot washing, carried out by the lowest ranking servants, to take place before the start of the meal. Feet could get very dirty in the streets of a town in those days.

Try to imagine what the atmosphere was like when Jesus did this. My imagination gives me a picture like this: The disciples would, at first, just be puzzled when Jesus got up and took off his outer tunic and wrapped a towel round his waist. Then he filled a basin with water – what is he going to do they will have been wondering. There will have been shocked surprise and horror when he started to wash the feet of the disciple next to him, probably the beloved disciple. Then the next one, and the next one, until he came to Peter. By then the initial stunned silence will have given way to a general muttering as one disciple after another will have started to whisper to his neighbour, “what on earth is he doing now? Why is he doing that?”

Peter protests: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” It is all too easy to hurry on to where Jesus says he has set an example for us and to miss the significance of what he has just done. Jesus was the leader, the boss, the captain, the managing director of their threatened revolt against the Roman occupying powers, he was the greatest prophet seen in Jerusalem for hundreds of years, he was God – and he was placing himself with them, or below them, in the social order. It was a very deliberate act clearly equating himself with ordinary human beings.

What an amazing God we have, that places himself so low, so close to us. Jesus made possible the things that Paul says in Romans 6 where we are said to be ‘with him’ 5 times in 5 verses: we were baptized into his death, the death of Jesus, the death of the Messiah, the death of the Son of God; we were buried with him so that as he was raised from the dead we too may live a new life; we are united with him in his death; we are united with him in his resurrection; we died with Christ so we will also live with him. We are in a very special way ‘with him’.

None of that would have been possible had Jesus remained aloof from his disciples, if he had shown all the time that he was a different order of being, that we could not emulate, we could not match in any way. No! Our God, our Jesus, was prepared to lower himself so that we could meet him at about the same level. We, you and I, can talk about how we are part of the body of the Messiah, the Lord of Creation. This is our royal status. WOW and triple WOW!

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