Reading: John 13: 1-17 and 31b-35
During the meal, Jesus gets up from the table and washes the disciples’ feet. Here He is offering the basic cleaning. In the culture of Jesus’ time there were three basic cleanings. Sandals (or no shoes) were common and all roads… were dirt. To cleanse the feet often was necessary. The next level is referred to by Peter as he asks Jesus to wash his feet, hands, and head. This would be the typical daily bath. What we know as a bath, to fully immerse in water, was definitely not a daily practice for most and was often communal.
The lesson Jesus was teaching, however, did not really have to do with hygiene but rather with status and authority. Jesus was Lord and Teacher to the disciples. In their eyes, He was the one to be served. But here Jesus reverses the normal order. The most becomes the least as He stoops to wash their feet. His closing line of this section – you too will be blessed – when we serve one another – applies to us as well.
Jesus goes on to reinforce the idea of humble service as an example of sacrificial love. He issues a new command: as I have loved you, do you must love one another. This command is given just after Jesus again speaks of His imminent death and resurrection. Surely the disciples would hear these words echoing in their heads and connect them to the ultimate act of humble service that Jesus performed on the cross.
We are all called to follow His example, although for most of us it does not lead to death on a cross. Our ‘death’ is to die to self, to the things of this world. Jesus calls us to offer ourselves in sacrificial love to others. To love each other in the body of Christ, to love those who are hard to love, to love those who hurt us, to love those who cannot love us back, to love one and all – we are to love as Jesus first loved us. Why? So they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.