Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Pastor Marc's sermon on Maundy Thursday (April 2, 2015) on John 13:1-17, 31b-35. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Did you notice that Jesus is out of order tonight?
In our gospel, Jesus is having dinner with his disciples. It’s the night before Passover and, unlike Mark, Matthew, and Luke, what we hear tonight is John’s version of the Last Supper. There’s no gathering in an upper room; no Passover meal to share; and no words about what is his body and what isn’t. Instead, we have what starts as a normal, regular, meal. And then - in the middle - Jesus gets up, and does a very strange thing. He finds a basin; fills it with water; wraps a towel around his waist - and then goes back to the table where, I imagine, he catches his disciples with a confused stare on their faces. So, while the disciples are in mid-chew, Jesus does an incredible thing - he bends down and washes their feet.
Now Peter, in the text, is the only one of the disciples who speaks but I’m sure he’s saying what all the other disciples were thinking. Peter questions just what Jesus is doing and he gets...agitated. I hear shock and fear and confusion in his voice. Peter actually tries to get Jesus to change what he’s doing. He begs - asking Jesus to wash his hands and head too. Peter wants this experience to be more like a bath - or maybe a ritual cleaning - than just plain, ol’ foot washing. He can’t stand the idea of Jesus bending down and washing his feet. And this is more than Peter not wanting anyone near his feet. Peter sees what Jesus is doing - and knows that Jesus is taking on a role that Jesus shouldn’t. Jesus is becoming a footwasher - and, in Peter’s world, that means Jesus is becoming a slave.
Now, it’s hard for us to imagine, fully, just exactly what Peter saw. We tend to not have someone designated to wash our feet when we come in the door. But, in Jesus’ day, slavery was very real and this was a job for them. Without indoor plumbing and no Bath and Body Works to pick up a body scrub from, feet were probably not that clean. Shoes - most likely sandals - were covered in dust from outside, dirty from just being out in the world, and most of the Middle East, culturally, wanted to keep all of that outside. Now, I grew up in a household where shoes were taken off before we walked onto the carpet - so this is an even more intense version of that. Proper protocol in fancy houses required guests to have their feet cleaned. They would remove their shoes and a slave would come over and wash the dirt and grime off their feet. Only then, would the guests come on inside, to be fed and entertained. The dirt and dust from the outside world stayed away from the dining rooms, instead finding a home on the hands of the slave.
So when Peter sees Jesus bend down, Peter is seeing Jesus becoming something that Jesus isn’t. Peter has been with Jesus, saw him turn water into wine, cure the sick, teach and proclaim with God’s own authority - Peter saw Jesus as anything but a slave. Jesus is a teacher, a master, the Son of God, who should be served, listened to, and believed. This Jesus isn’t a slave who washes people’s feet.
But there’s more here than just watching Jesus take on a role that Jesus, in Peter’s eyes, shouldn’t. There’s also the matter of who Peter is here too. If Jesus is bending down to wash Peter’s feet - then what does this say about who Peter is following? Peter, who calls Jesus the Messiah, has been called to follow a warrior - a king - the one who will restore the political and spiritual kingdom of God. Peter hasn’t been called to follow a slave. So Jesus’ action doesn’t just challenge Peter’s view of Jesus - it also challenges Peter’s view of himself. He’s a follower of the Messiah - and now - in this simple act of bending down to wash feet - Peter’s own identity is confronted. His own sense of self is challenged. And, suddenly, he’s left bare - completely vulnerable - as Jesus bends down to wash his feet.
And that vulnerability, I think, is made real to us because there’s just something about feet - about our feet - that make us vulnerable too.
In a moment, I’m going to invite everyone here to come on up and have their feet washed. And, honestly, I really have no idea how many will come up because there’s just something about feet. Feet are, really, amazing. They’ve got all these bones, toes, muscles, and ligaments - and they’re designed to hold us up - to let us walk on two legs, run, and jump. When feet work, they’re awesome. And when they don’t, life gets really hard. Even a small cut or a tiny blister can make everything else we do feel impossible. Feet, for many of us, are foundational to who we are - and I think that’s what makes feet so vulnerable for us too. Our feet are ours - they’re central to who we are in so many ways - and letting someone bend down to wash them….there’s a vulnerability here that’s unnerving, uncomfortable, and strange. Foot washing is just weird - and it’s so weird - that Peter’s reaction in our reading tonight is our reaction too. Peter’s lack of comfort is our lack of comfort. Peter’s vulnerability and our vulnerability is one and the same. Peter isn’t just being Peter in this passage. Peter, tonight, is all of us.
And Jesus shares with Peter, and shares with us, that this is what love looks like. Love requires vulnerability. Love requires service. Love requires the inversion of who we think is on top and who we think is on bottom. Love is very uncomfortable - very unnerving - very weird. It requires us to go outside our comfort zones and see others as God sees them - and love requires us to reoriented our own sense of who we are. Love requires us to get off our high horse sometimes and stoop down and do the uncomfortable thing of throwing ourselves at the feet of our friends, family, and strangers.
We’re not gathered here tonight to re-enact Jesus’ last moments before his arrest. We’re here to remember and encounter - to bare witness to a Jesus who knew that Good Friday was about to come. The wheels were in motion. Judas’ plan was set. The religious and political authorities had Jesus in their sights - and Jesus, at that moment, filled a basin with water, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples feet. Even with the end in sight, Jesus didn’t stop loving. And that’s what I believe tonight is all about. Let the water wash over our feet. Listen to it splash in the bottom of the tub. And let’s remember that we are loved and we are called to do what Jesus did - and never stop loving. That’s our job. That’s our commandment. That’s what Jesus, right before he was betrayed, tells us to keep doing. Never stop loving because Jesus is with us; Jesus loves us; and there’s no darkness in this world that Jesus won’t walk with us through.
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