GOSPEL | JOHN 13:3-4, 12-15, 34-35
And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 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.
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“You also should do as I have done to you” (v.15)
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day/night we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. This is a big night: the disciples and Jesus celebrate the Passover together, and Jesus reinterprets the whole occasion and institutes what we call “The Lord’s Supper,” or communion, or Eucharist; Jesus is betrayed by Judas, and arrested, and denied by Peter, and tried illegally by the Jewish religious court. But before any of this happens, today’s lectionary text asks me to focus specifically on Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet.
I have a thin understanding of “love,” as Christ teaches it and enacts it. Christ’s love is specific, intimate, personal. He asks us to look, to watch him washing each disciple’s feet in turn, and to see in this servile act his real, radical love.
I haven’t trained my eyes to see this specific, intimate, personal love and think “Christian.” Sadly, I think “Christian” when I see sunny, pastel colors; smiling, clean faces; “good,” moral living; “right,” “true” knowing. None of these things involve my stripping down, donning a towel, and washing someone’s feet. (In fact, most of these involve my pointing my fingers or shaking my head at those who don’t “fit,” and trying to assert why and how they have to change.)
Other times, I am asked to see “Christian love” in signing a petition, or wearing a symbol, or speaking out for others. I really do see Christians do these things because they are motivated by the power of the Gospel to love others as much as they can, and to do so within our political and social systems. But I also see that I can do these things without getting my hands wet or dirty from my neighbor’s feet, or looking my neighbor in their eyes, or even breathing the same air my neighbor breathes (i.e. “loving” them).
Christ tells me, “You also should do as I have done to you” (v.15). This is far more radical than “the Golden Rule:” to do to others what I want done to me. This is not a rule of mutual benefit; this is a receive-and-share rule: I have received Christ’s love; I have to share it with others. What is more, I have received Christ’s love concretely, intimately, and personally; I cannot in turn love others abstractly, distantly, or generally, and say that I am following Christ.
Teacher and Lord, Jesus Christ,
You washed the feet of your disciples, one by one,
even Judas, who would betray you for silver,
even Peter, who at first refused to be washed, and later would deny you.
You have washed me,
even me, who hordes your love and cannot share it
for fear of running out of love,
for fear of getting dirty, or smelly, or uncomfortable,
for fear of compromising my reputation.
I am sorry. Forgive me.
As Good Friday approaches, Lord,
Send your Spirit upon me,
that I may see more clearly and experience more concretely
self-emptying love for even me,
So that I will be unable to restrain myself,
but love my neighbor with simple, solid gestures
of care, hospitality, and service.
I love you, Lord; help me to love you and my neighbor more fully, more freely.
In your precious, powerful name I pray: Amen.