13 April 2017

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him … ‘… I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (vv. 5, 34-35)

Psalm: Psalm 116


Today is Maundy Thursday, when Christians around the world remember Jesus' last supper with his disciples. Many churches have worship that includes the leader washing the feet of the congregation, or people washing each others' feet and drying them. It is a curiously intimate gesture.

Feet are among the first parts of us to get smelly if we have had a long day in the heat, and feet are closest to the dirt of animals and rubbish on the road. But just like brushing our teeth before going to the dentist, many give their toes a little scrub and put on fresh socks before heading out to church on Maundy Thursday, if they know there will be foot washing. Some churches skip the whole headache by washing hands, or having one person's feet washed while everyone else watches, or doing something else entirely.

All these are worthy responses and no one should feel bad about them. And yet, Jesus broke the social etiquette of his day and asked his disciples to do the same. The vulnerability of showing our feet to one another and being washed was exactly the sign of love he intended. The willingness to love one another like this, and act like it, was what he thought would mark his followers out. Jesus did not think the world would notice Christians because of their beliefs or creeds, nor because they prayed or worshipped a certain way. He thought they would only gain notice because of their acts of sacrificial love one for another, and for all people.

To paraphrase, 'This is what the world will see about you, and how the world will know you are my disciple,' he said. Not 'this is what the world should see about you', but 'this is what the world will see about you'. Do Christians want to be noticed in the public marketplace of news and ideas? Maybe the trick is to take Jesus at his word. Truly risky acts of love still make headlines: they are rare enough today as they were then.

To Ponder

  • If you have ever had your feet washed by someone else, in worship or not, what was it like?
  • Why do you think so many important events in Jesus' teaching take place at meals?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.