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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 55 – John 13:15

The example of Jesus

Now we come to the statement of Jesus that “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” That is the part of this whole episode of the foot-washing which is most often emphasized. But we must not think of this as a general statement about following his example without considering what he has just said about our relationship with him, explained through the picture of washing.

Peter spoke up asking Jesus not just to wash his feet but his whole body. By doing so he showed that he had completely misunderstood what Jesus was doing. Jesus was not doing anything with water, as water, but using it as a picture of the relationship that the disciples were to have with him. This had been established once and for all in the event pictured by baptism. As we noted in the last study the bond between Jesus and the disciples was to be very tight. In the first few verses of chapter 15, the next chapter but one, he would use the picture of a vine tree and its branches to illustrate what he meant. He would then go on to explain how this was to work through the effect of the Holy Spirit. This event is all about relationship.

Jesus goes on, having said that they had all had a bath – a complete washing – to say that they did not need another one. In fact if they tried to insist on one they would downgrade the significance of the first one entirely. Sadly some branches of the Christian church do just that when they teach about a ‘second blessing’. There is only one blessing of conversion. It comes once; it signals entry into the Kingdom, it includes the once-for-all gift of the Holy Spirit; it cannot be repeated.

Jesus does talk about a need to ‘only wash feet’ (though this phrase is disputed as perhaps being a late addition). If accepted it may well be a reference to the Lord’s Supper. We are to be baptized once, but participate in the Supper many times.

Jesus then goes on to say that he has set them an example that they should copy. Not copy with water but with the depth of their relationships within the people of God, which is a much more difficult thing. Churches, communities of the Lord’s people, are never entirely free of inter personal strife. In fact they often seem to have more than their fair share of it. Because people have committed themselves to something – or rather somebody – very deeply they feel much more concerned than they are with their more superficial attachments. Our everyday work lives are controlled by the amount we are paid for what we do. That is a much less significant bond than our faith commitment. So people will tend to be far more upset if things don’t go the way they think they should go in church than in the office or the workshop. But the people we are with in church are more than work colleagues – they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Have you ever stopped and looked round your local gathering on a Sunday morning and said to yourself something like, ‘these are the Lord’s people; these are my brothers and sisters; these are the people I am to be in closest relationship to, at least outside my immediate family.’ It can be a sobering thought: that cantankerous old so and so, the woman that has an acid tongue that pulls everyone down, that young fellow who makes a speciality of annoying everybody, etc. Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of people like those – indeed of one who was shortly to betray him and consign him to a cruel death. That was the example he set. “you should do as I have done for you” he said.

It can be hard to walk in the Way of the Lord given the sort of people we may have as family! It is a good job that we have the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the advocate, that Jesus is going to talk about so much in the next 3 chapters, to help us. Thank you, Lord.

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