17 April 2014

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

“He loved them to the end” (v. 1)


This passage describes a last supper that Jesus had with his followers. Unlike the other Gospels, it does not describe Jesus teaching them how to eat bread and drink wine as a way of sharing in the sacrifice of his body and blood. John 6:48-59 has already shown Jesus teaching about those things in public. At the supper he teaches his closest disciples in private about what it means to glorify God and to be glorified by God both as Son of Man and as one of his disciples. For him, it means to love people to the end (verse 1), even if they fail, deny or betray him. For them, it means the same (verses 34-35).

Foot washing was a social courtesy before the start of a meal. So in doing it in the middle of a meal Jesus is making a point. It is a point about how he must behave if he has come from God and must go back to God (verse 3), and about how they are to behave if they are to remain in relationship with him (verse 8).

So, what is the point? Jesus makes it in a symbolic action that will leave them with a powerful memory which they will only come to understand fully after his crucifixion and resurrection (verse 7). Foot washing was normally performed by social inferiors for their superiors, although Jewish law prevented it from being required of Jewish slaves. Yet because of his love for them, Jesus, the master, voluntarily did for his servants what they would normally do for him; just like the way in which, because of his love for people, he voluntarily went to a slave's execution on the Cross. His followers are to do the same (verses 12-17).

But is there more? Does Peter try to stop Jesus washing his feet because he does not want Jesus to be his inferior, or because he feels that he is already fully clean? There were some early Christians who believed that their relationship with Jesus meant that they could not sin (eg 1 John 1:8). When Peter discovers that he and the others will fail, deny and even betray Jesus, he goes to the opposite extreme of assuming that he is completely unclean. But Jesus points out that that is not true, either. Despite their failures, Jesus loves them to the end.

To Ponder

  • What would you feel like if you discovered that Jesus was wanting to wash your feet?

Bible notes author

Ken Howcroft

Ken Howcroft was designated by the Conference in 2013 to be the President of the 2014 Conference. He is currently a minister of the British Conference of the Methodist Church seconded to the Methodist Church in Italy to look after the English-language Methodist Church in Rome.