John 13:1-17, 31b-35
“Now before the festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. … And during the supper Jesus … got up from the table, took off his outer robe and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water in a basin and began to wash the disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
This familiar scene has become part of our Maundy Thursday ritual. But I find myself wondering, what exactly did the disciples think was going on? First, it is important to note that, according to John, all this took place “before the festival of Passover.” The other Gospels, however, place the Last Supper on the first night of Passover. But John chooses to put it the day before the Passover because, in part, that would put Jesus’ crucifixion at the time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. John makes frequent reference to Jesus being the “Lamb of God.”
In this passage the disciples are at a meal with Jesus when he begins to wash their feet. I doubt they had any idea what Jesus was doing or why. In fact, Peter initially refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, to which Jesus responds, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
After Jesus had finished, he returned to the table and said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done for you.”
Here Jesus is teaching the disciples and us about humility and servant leadership. Like us, I don’t believe they got it right away. It’s a hard lesson to learn. It is not about being the top dog or even about getting recognition for what we have done. It is about how we choose to serve those whom we have been called to lead. Jesus’ lesson leads right into his final commandment, to love one another as he has loved us, as a servant willing to sacrifice all in the service of loving God and all people, even those who we don’t particularly like or who betray us. After all, Jesus washed Judas’ feet despite being aware that Judas was about to betray him.
Dear God give us the humility and the faith not to seek glory or recognition but to truly love you and the world in the face of both joy and adversity just as you and Jesus love us. Amen.