Washing Before the Meal

Read John 13.1-17

Jesus and his disciples have entered time Jerusalem.Their time, though brief, had been a whirl-wind of activity. Jesus’ reputation was spreading like wild fire. Crowds of people gathered wherever he went, anxious to see this prophet from Nazareth the whole town was talking about.

His fame, though, was a mixed blessing and curse. The enthusiastic welcome Jesus received entering Jerusalem had quickly turned to anger, doubt and confusion. Merchants cursed this crazy prophet who had turned over their tables in the temple courtyard. Jesus had ruined their business on one of the busiest days of the year. Business leaders grumbled when the name “Jesus” was even mentioned.

Religious leaders were also upset. They warned Jesus if things didn’t settle down, there would be trouble. All this commotion over Jesus was taking away from the celebration of Passover, they said. It was time to focus on God- time to focus on the Exodus-how God delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. It was not the time to stir up anger against Rome. It was not the time to promote false hope in a Messiah who could not deliver. Leaders in the religious community felt this Jesus had to be silenced.

Even the crowds of people who had welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with waving palms and songs of praise were beginning to wonder what was going on. When would he mobilize his forces? How did he expect to take over without any weapons, without an army? Why was he upsetting the community by destroying the business of the temple marketplace? What kind of Messiah would do that? The people were confused. They watched Jesus anxiously, but with growing doubt that he was the One sent by God.

As the disciples entered this upper room, they were tired and confused. They were hot; their skin burned under the blazing sun. They were dirty; their sandals and feet covered with the sand of Jerusalem streets. Exhausted, they welcomed this quiet space away from the crowds like an old friend with a cool cup of water on a hot day. Here they could regroup and spend some time with Jesus alone. They could let go of the fury of the past few days. Now they could renew their faith in God and their teacher. God’s chosen one.

The disciples collapsed around the table prepared for the Passover feast. They tried to put out of their mind the past few days and focus on God and this meal. They began to tell the story of Passover — how God sent plagues on the land of Egypt because Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go. God’s people, Israel, escaped these plagues. They were delivered from the hard life of slavery. Someone spoke the words the LORD gave to Moses and Aaron.

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

They remembered and gave thanks to God.

Jesus sat quietly with them around the table. Without saying a word, he rose to his feet, took off his robe, grabbed a towel and a basin and began to wash the feet of Simon Peter.

Peter was stunned. He objected.

Jesus smiled. “You don’t understand. Maybe someday.”

Peter continued. “You will never wash my feet, Lord. You’re not my servant.”

Jesus explained, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

Peter still confused and a little embarrassed, said, “Well then, wash my hands and head also.”

“That’s not necessary,” said Jesus as he washed and wiped Peter’s feet.

Peter felt the blood rush to his head. All his pride escaped through his pores like the Jerusalem sand from his feet. He felt like a little boy in the hands of a loving parent, gently washing and wiping him clean.

The disciples looked at each other, embarrassed and confused. They were so tired they had forgotten to wash their feet before gathering at the table. There were no servants around to do it for them. Here was Jesus, their teacher, taking the role of the servant, kneeling down to their grimy feet, taking them in his hands, gently washing and wiping them until they were clean. The words of Jesus kept ringing in their ears.

“Unless you let me wash your feet, you cannot share in my inheritance.”

No one was more uncomfortable with this than Judas. He sat quietly, staring straight ahead. He could not get his mind off what he had done. Earlier that day, he had met with Jerusalem authorities. They convinced him to turn Jesus in. After supper, Judas would sneak out, meet with the soldiers, bring them back and they would arrest Jesus.

Now this great leader, considered a threat to the community, picked up the foot of Judas, washed and wiped it clean. Judas looked down at him. Jesus looked up. As their eyes met, Judas felt his face burn. “My God, he knows!” thought Judas. “Why else would he look at me like that? He knows. Why doesn’t he run? Why doesn’t he escape?” Judas felt like running himself, but stayed, not wanting the others to know.

After Jesus had washed their feet, he put on his robe and returned to the table.

“You call me teacher. Lord. If I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash each other’s feet. I have set an example for you. Do as I have done.”

Are you willing to wash each other’s feet? Are you willing to let your feet be washed? Are you willing to serve? Are you willing to let go of your pride and let someone serve you?

Jesus, fully God, shows us what it means to be fully human. It is by loving service that we become all we are capable of becoming. By becoming the servant of all, we rise above ourselves and join God in loving service.

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