The disciples were gathered for the Passover Seder. Passover is a very special and significant feast. It is a celebration of life as the blood of a sacrificed lamb covered the people of Israel so that they would not suffer the curse of death that overcame Egypt and allowed them to escape slavery to the Promised Land.
Verse 1 reads,
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Jesus was hours away from His arrest and death. One of his closest friends was about to betray Him. And Jesus was the only person in the room who knew that the betrayal would lead to a horrific death. But Jesus’ life wasn’t taken from Him. He freely laid it down. He came into the world for that very reason and He chose to give His life. He kept that purpose in mind and was able to face His looming death with joy and love. But instead of wallowing in what was about to take place, He loved people actively. The passage we read today is about an act of love in the midst of angst. Verses 2-5 say,
“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him,3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
What Jesus did was groundbreaking. During these early centuries people walked the dirty, muddy, or dusty roads in sandals and their feet got filthy. When they would enter a home, if the home had slaves the lowest slaves would wash the dirt and muck from their feet. If there was no slave in the home, the guest would wash his own feet. Never did a person with a higher social standing wash the feet of someone lower than himself. The task was one the most menial of jobs.
The disciples must have been shocked that their Lord and teacher was doing this job that only the bottommost servants ever did. But Peter was the one to voice his amazement. Verses 6-7 describes the exchange.
“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
Peter loved Jesus intensely and He respected Him deeply. He couldn’t fathom his Lord doing this task removing the most disgusting of dirt from His feet. His feet had walked the dirty streets. His feet were caked with mud made up of dirt, animal waste, and who knows what. His feet were the dirtiest part of him and Jesus was kneeled at them with a towel around his waist like the meekest and lowliest servant to wash him. Verses 8-9 read,
“Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
I just love Peter’s fervor. If washing his feet meant sharing with Jesus, then he wanted in completely. But Jesus told his friend that he was already clean and only needed his feet washed. After Jesus had washed all their feet, He got redressed and took His place at the table. Verses 12-16 read,
“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
Jesus never asked someone to do something He wasn’t willing to do Himself. He set an example of fundamental service for one another. We are to love one another as Jesus loved us. He loved us in humility and service. His love was active and apparent. It wasn’t a gushy feeling, it was manifest. Jesus continued in verse 17.
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
You know you are to follow Jesus example. You know you are supposed to love others just the way Jesus loves you. He promises you are blessed if you do that. Not everyone who looks like a follower of Jesus is. Even among the disciples, one of them was not truly a believer. Judas was about to go betray Jesus. Judas who had been a part of every miracle and experience, Judas who had just had his feet washed in a beautiful act of love was about to commit an act of treachery. Jesus told the disciples it was about to happen as well and they probably didn’t understand that one of them could ever do something so traitorous. But Jesus told them so they would know that He was Christ and so they would understand that He willingly gave up His life. It wasn’t Judas who killed Him. It wasn’t the Romans, Pilate, Herod, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, or anyone else that took His life. He gave it. He chose to do that act of love just as He chose to love the disciples by washing their feet.
Verse 20 reads,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Jesus had spoken about His unity with the Father many times. In this verse He adds us to the unity. When we love and serve people, we give them the chance to receive the love of Jesus. When they accept us and our acts of love, they are feeling the love of Jesus and so they are experiencing the love of God. You are Jesus representative. You are God’s will put into action. Jesus said in verse 15, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” So be a follower of Jesus and do what He has done.