We get a special seat in the upper room with Jesus and His disciples today. Jesus performs an unexpected and unprecedented act of service for His followers. How I would have loved to see the faces in the room when Jesus bent down and began to wash the first of His disciples’ feet.
John is the only one who shares this intimate event with us. Luke shares with us a dispute that arose about who was the greatest among Jesus’ disciples. I have a feeling that event preceded this one. I doubt any of the disciples would be claiming superiority after Jesus’ demonstration of such a humble example. Let’s step into the scene today and have our “feet washed” by the Master too.
Today is a day of celebration! It is the day to remember God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh. Freedom from slavery and the ability to worship the one true God. It’s always a little noisy during the official meal of Passover. There are a lot rituals to be included in the ceremony but all are to be done with a joyful heart! Things are a little different with Jesus and His disciples. Everyone wants to enjoy this Passover like they had done in the past, but there is an undercurrent of tension tonight.
Jesus told us before even coming to Jerusalem this year that this would be His last trip here. He said He was going to be killed on this visit. So far the people have responded to Him positively and the religious leaders have backed off. How could they do any different after Jesus so publically diffused all their carefully laid traps? Surely we are sale secluded away in this wonderfully prepared room. But still there is something different about tonight. Just a few moments ago there was even an argument over who was the greatest among us! Of all the nights to be thinking about rank and file! Tonight is a night for celebrating God’s deliverance, not picking petty arguments.
Conversations continue around the room and we are all trying to enjoy the meal and release this feeling of something waiting around the corner. A moment ago Jesus got up from the table. I thought He was heading for the facilities but He went to the corner of the room instead. I can’t tell what He is doing because His back is to me. Peter calls my attention back to the table and we begin talking about tomorrow’s plans.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of Jesus as He returns to the table area. I don’t think anything of it at first, until I notice He has removed His outer garment. Maybe He was overheated. But as this thought crosses my mind I notice what He has in His hands and also wrapped around His waist. I stop talking and watch as He bends down next to Matthew. Matthew has also stopped talking and is watching Jesus. Jesus begins to loosen the thongs on Matthew’s sandal and removes it from his foot. Moments later Jesus scoops and pours water over Matthew’s foot from the bowl of water He is carrying. Matthew remains silent as Jesus dries his foot and begins the same process with his other foot.
It didn’t take long for conversation to die around the room as all eyes watch Jesus perform a task that is commonly assigned to the lowliest of servants. Here is Jesus, performing the most demeaning job in the household. The only thing worse would be emptying chamber pots! I am ashamed of myself for not offering this service to Jesus at the beginning of the meal, but honestly I didn’t even think about it.
After completing the care of Matthew’s feet Jesus moves on to Thomas’ feet. The room is silent as He carefully cleans and dries each of Thomas’ feet. Jesus next approaches Peter. As Jesus bends down to begin His ministrations, Peter puts his hand on Jesus shoulder and pulls his feet away from Jesus in protest. “Lord, do You wash my feet?” (verse 6).
Jesus, undeterred reaches out and takes hold of Peter’s foot. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (verse 7).
Peter pulls his foot from Jesus’ hands. “You shall never wash my feet” (verse 8a).
Jesus meets Peter’s eyes and says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (verse 8b).
Alarm shows on Peter’s face as he reaches his hands towards Jesus. “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (verse 9).
Jesus smiles at Peter’s response and his change in attitude. “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean” (verse 10a). Jesus hesitates for a moment then adds, “But not every one of you” (verse 10b).
Jesus continues around the room, washing the feet or everyone in the room. Silence reigned in the room as He completed His chosen task. No one else dared challenge Him. There are also several downcast eyes and a few shed and unshed tears. We know Jesus never does anything without a reason but this service He is performing for us is beyond words. We should have been doing this for Him, not the other way around! I feel so ashamed for not offering Him this same kind of care. But there is nothing to do now but wait until He is ready to share with us why He has done this.
Finally Jesus puts the basin and towel away and picks up His outer garment. Everyone is still silent as He returns to the table. As soon as He is seated He asks us if we understand what He has done for us. No one answers His question so He goes on. “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (verses 13-15).
My mind begins to puzzle why He would want us to wash each other’s feet. I still don’t understand why He did this task but I will honor His commands none the less. Before my mind can contemplate His “example” any further Jesus continues speaking.
“A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (verses 16-17).
If He is willing to be a humble servant to us I am willing to be a humble servant too! I am going to start looking around to see how I can be of service to Him.
Jesus continues to address His disciples in our reading and points out that one of them is going to betray Him. Of course no one is going to own up to it in this setting and ALL will claim innocence! But he is not fooling Jesus one bit. Jesus ends this lesson by reminding His disciples that they are on a mission from Him, just as He is on a mission from His Father. “Whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent Me” (verse 20). We are His emissaries when we serve one another. THAT is the example He is showing. Service to God through service to others. We are God’s hands and feet when we minister to others in His name and place.
Lord Jesus You didn’t exclude Judas from this unexpected gift of service. You served Him just as fully as You served everyone else in the room. We are to love our enemies just as You loved Yours. Not that You chose to treat him as an enemy but that he chose to treat You as one. You knew his heart yet You showed him love anyway. No one in the room even realized who You were referring to. THAT is amazing!
I’m not so good at serving those who don’t treat me kindly. I try to serve like You would want me to but my heart betrays me. Sometimes I even treat those who love me poorly. This is NOT the example You provided for me. Please forgive me Jesus and help me, once again, to follow Your example. I love You and want to be more like You every day.