21 August 2014

John 13:12-20

“… whoever receives one whom I send receives me and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (v. 20)


We are still in the room where Jesus and his disciples are celebrating their meal. Feet have been washed (John 13:1-11), but John's Gospel suggests a pregnant pause as the implications of this gesture sink in and are reinforced by the words of Jesus. It could be helpful to pause as you read and allow these few verses to connect with the great sweep of the story the Gospel tells.

The simple act of washing dusty feet turns out to be a clue to the heart of the Christian gospel. We can imagine that in the early Church it was already tempting for Christians to jockey for position and to see leadership in church as an opportunity for self-expression and power. They - like Christians today - need to understand just what it means to follow the example of Jesus. You can't have Jesus as your Lord and not share his humility and service. 'Servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them' (v. 16).

To be on your knees and handle someone's feet is an intimate form of service; it reveals something of the person serving, and requires trust and vulnerability on the part of the person being washed. In opening ourselves to receive this gift from Jesus, we open ourselves to a life-transforming encounter with God. But we can only do this if we put to one side our self-sufficiency and defensiveness.

Throughout these passages there is the counter-narrative of what it means not to receive Jesus and to close your life off to God. Judas has been an unnamed character in the foot-washing story and will become more prominent in the verses that follow. Jesus is aware that even in the intimacy of his inner circle there is more than misunderstanding; there is someone who represents that power of darkness which will become more and more obvious as the drama reaches its climax.

To Ponder

  • What do you think it would mean for foot washing to be a more regular part of Christian worship and service?
  • Is there anything that you can do that would be similar to foot washing in terms of humble, intimate, service? What might that be?
  • If Jesus is your teacher, what do you most need to learn from him?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.