John 13.1-17 — Washing Feet

It’s closing time. It’s the night of his betrayal, arrest, and trial. Jesus has a few hours to say what is most important to say at this juncture. He starts off by showing his disciples “the full extent of his love.” It’s interesting that he isn’t engrossed in his own sorrow, but burning with love towards others. That truth will dramatically play itself out for the next 3 days and must always be kept in the front of one’s thoughts about these chapters.

The evening meal was being served. Not only were the disciples in the room with him, but Satan was too—Jesus doesn’t get a minute of rest from Satan’s oppression, not even here. Jesus knows Judas has arranged to betray him. It makes his actions even more shocking. But as it says in Jn. 1.5, light has come into the world, and the darkness submits to it. Here Love is in the room, and treacherous evil can’t quench it.

At a time like this, knowing what Jesus knew, a typical human leader would have rallied his followers around him, battened down the hatches, prepared to defend themselves, and to make sure they had plenty of weapons. Jesus’ reaction is not even on the same planet as what might be expected. He was more than confident: he handled the situation with authority. Jesus had the whole situation in his grip just as Satan had Judas in his grip.

Jesus takes off his robe as a symbol of divestiture (Phil. 2.7). And he wraps a towel around his waist as a symbol of servitude. There was nothing snobbishly religious about Jesus.

So the first answer to “What is the full extent of love” is serving others—emptying oneself, denying oneself, and living for the other instead. True power can only come from true humility.

Peter, who is saying what everyone else wanted to say but were afraid to, revolted against the whole plan. In his mind, everything about this picture was wrong. Jesus told him to stand down, that Peter would understand later.

Peter doesn’t care what Jesus says. This is all backwards, upside down, and inappropriate. In Jesus’ mind, that’s exactly the point. At least Peter sees it, even though he doesn’t get it. Isn’t it ironic—Peter is too proud to let Jesus wash his feet. It’s an interesting reversal that’s a parable in truth all by itself.

Jesus says, “ You have to let me do this. If you don’t let me, you have no part with me.” If you will not let Christ serve you, you cannot serve Christ. It’s what love is. When I love you, I serve you. When you love me, you serve me. You must allow him to wash you, to teach you, and to do what he wants with you—to do things his way.

Now Peter, long on intent but short on reasoning, tries to express his love with exaggeration. “Then give me a bath!” Jesus very gently discourages what he’s saying. Spiritual purity isn’t a matter of the excess of works, but just the relationship. The entire event here is an acted-out parable.

Notice that Jesus even washed Judas’s feet, and Judas let him. Can you imagine what was being spoken in their eye-contact? We know what was being spoken by Jesus’ action: Judas, you still have a chance to turn back. No one is forcing you to do this. Repent. Turn back to me. I love you. Jesus says, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?” It was a searching question, particularly to Peter and Judas.

Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God is that it is to be a community of members who serve each other, who love each other, and who set each other free. Relationships should expand, not constrict. The kingdom of God opens, it doesn’t close.

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” For the 11, it is a word to the wise. For Judas, it is one last attempt to get him to turn from his plan.

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