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John’s gospel post 59: Feet

January 18, 2014

John 13:1 – 17

We now come to an extended training event. A seminar for Jesus’ followers. 5 whole chapters in the company of Jesus and his disciples. Not a Pharisee in sight.

We are still in the run up to the Passover festival. The time when the Jews remembered their rescue from Egypt. God’s great flyover.

Whereas John has recorded on occasion that Jesus knew his time had not yet come, now the biographer records it plainly. The hour HAS come. And Jesus knows. He is returning to the Father.

He loved his own. His followers. Now he was going to show them.

It’s evening. As if to emphasise the gathering darkness, John tells us that Judas has already decided to betray Jesus. The devil was at work. But we are to assume that even the turncoat is present at this intimate gathering.

Jesus knew that he had God given control. He knew he was on a mission from God. And he knew that he was going back to God’s side.

So he takes off his jacket and wraps a towel around him. An interesting way to show your power. He puts water in a bowl and starts to wash his disciples’ feet. An unbelievable way to show power. This was the job of a servant. Foot washing was an important act. Nowadays none but the most godly wear sandals day in day out!

But sandals were the Converses of Jesus’ day. They were really the only option. Roads were dusty and broken (there’s a few of those by my house in 2014 after all the rain!). So to wash your feet on arrival was as vital as wiping your feet today.

But the one who knew he had the power was doing the servant’s job. Simon Peter sees the absurdity of this. How can this man who claims to be equal with God stoop so low?

“Lord. You’re going to wash my feet?!”

“I know you don’t get this Peter, but you will do”.

“No way!!!”

“If I don’t do this you can have no part of me”.

“Then wash my hands and face too Lord!”

“If you have had a bath then it’s only your feet that need attention. But you’re not all clean”.

Those last words were a cryptic reference to his betrayer.

He takes off the towel, wipes his hands, puts his jacket back on and sits back at the table.

“Do you know what I’ve done?”

No reply.

“You call me teacher and Lord. And in case what I have just done makes you wonder, you are right to call me those names. But if I wash your feet, you need to do the same for each other. Follow my example. You are not greater than your master. So if he is humble, so are you”.

I think I have been to one service in my whole life where feet were washed. We’re not really big on bathing each other’s bunions! Foot washing does not have the same place in modern life so perhaps the symbolism is lost on us.

But maybe that’s just it. It IS symbolic. This specific act is not important. What matters is my heart. Am I servant? Or do I like others to serve me? Do I want status and power? Or am I marked by humility?

Jesus in this incident acted out that he became a servant to his people. Later An early hymn of the Christian church would say that “he made himself nothing…being found in very nature a servant”.

That’s the challenge. As a slightly more modern hymn has it “this is your God, the Servant King, he calls us now to follow him”.

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