Wednesday

“… 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)

John 13:1-11 Wednesday 20 August 2014


Background

Here is one of the most moving passages in the whole of John'sGospel, a story that is unique to John. Instead of the words thathave been used in the Christian service of Holy Communion, withJesus sharing the bread and wine, this account of the last mealbetween Jesus and his friends focuses on the symbolic action ofJesus in washing the feet of his disciples. John's Gospel makes itclear that Jesus is no passive victim of a cruel fate, he knowswhat is happening and why. What he does, he does out of love. Heloves 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 themwashed by a servant. Jesus' action is a deliberate one that givesan example to those who experience it - and those through the yearswho have heard and read the story. It is not an exaggeration tocall this action sacramental. Here are physical actions that conveyan encounter with the transforming love of God. The words used areweighted with meaning. Jesus 'lays aside' his clothes just as he islaying aside his very life. He wipes the feet of the disciples,just as Mary had wiped his feet after anointing them in Bethany afew days before (John 12:1-8).

One of the puzzles of Church history is why Christians havetaken so little notice of Jesus' instruction to wash each other'sfeet. The practice has survived as a brief ritual in some MaundyThursday services and in the Middle Ages the English monarch wouldhave washed the feet of the poor instead of the present custom ofhanding out specially-minted money. But Christians have found itdifficult to follow the example of Jesus - perhaps out of fear forwhat it might mean.

Once again the disciples, represented by Peter, are at a lossand don't really understand what's going on. Peter is all set to dogreat things for Jesus but has trouble allowing Jesus to dosomething for him.


To Ponder

  • Think of situations in which you have been dependent on someoneelse and their physical actions have conveyed their love foryou.
  • Imagine that you are one of the disciples having their feetwashed by Jesus. What is your reaction? 
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