20 August 2014John 13:1-11
“… he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that tied around him.” (v. 5)
Here is one of the most moving passages in the whole of John's Gospel, a story that is unique to John. Instead of the words that have been used in the Christian service of Holy Communion, with Jesus sharing the bread and wine, this account of the last meal between Jesus and his friends focuses on the symbolic action of Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples. John's Gospel makes it clear that Jesus is no passive victim of a cruel fate, he knows what is happening and why. What he does, he does out of love. He loves his friends to the very limit.
The action of Jesus is one of hospitality as well as service. Guests at a meal would usually wash their own feet or have them washed by a servant. Jesus' action is a deliberate one that gives an example to those who experience it - and those through the years who have heard and read the story. It is not an exaggeration to call this action sacramental. Here are physical actions that convey an encounter with the transforming love of God. The words used are weighted with meaning. Jesus 'lays aside' his clothes just as he is laying aside his very life. He wipes the feet of the disciples, just as Mary had wiped his feet after anointing them in Bethany a few days before (John 12:1-8).
One of the puzzles of Church history is why Christians have taken so little notice of Jesus' instruction to wash each other's feet. The practice has survived as a brief ritual in some Maundy Thursday services and in the Middle Ages the English monarch would have washed the feet of the poor instead of the present custom of handing out specially-minted money. But Christians have found it difficult to follow the example of Jesus - perhaps out of fear for what it might mean.
Once again the disciples, represented by Peter, are at a loss and don't really understand what's going on. Peter is all set to do great things for Jesus but has trouble allowing Jesus to do something for him.
- Think of situations in which you have been dependent on someone else and their physical actions have conveyed their love for you.
- Imagine that you are one of the disciples having their feet washed by Jesus. What is your reaction?