The Kingdom of God- Washing the Disciples Feet, pages 152-158
The Scripture Reading
John 13:1-17 NIV
Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet 13 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master,nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
Repainting the Last Supper
As a child, I loved color by number pages (paint by number’s cheaper cousin.) The complex ones, with lots of geometric shapes cobbled all together, were my favorite because I couldn’t always tell what exactly the picture was going to be until I colored it in according to the numbered guide. It was like an art project and a puzzle all in one.
Getting the picture right depended heavily on the guide at the bottom in which each color was assigned its own number. Without the guide, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate picture.
That is how I feel about scripture sometimes. God gives us just a few lines of text to tell an important story. We can’t help but color in the blank spaces between the lines with our own cultural context, and at times that is like a color by number project with the wrong guide attached to it.
#1 isn’t really red. It’s blue.
We thought #2 was green, but it is actually brown.
In the end, the picture doesn’t look quite right.
Sometime between 1495 and 1498 an Italian artistic genius named Leonardo da Vinci undertook the task of capturing the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples, and Leo filled in the blanks with his own cultural context.
In the image, which has been reproduced countless times, Christ sits at the center of a lovely table, draped with a white cloth, and spread with what appears to be blue and white china. Dinner rolls are spread liberally across the table (because Italy = good bread.)
Leonardo was painting the world he knew, but was it anything close to that of Jesus and his friends? Not so much.
Passovers and Place Settings
Passover was, and remains, the most holy of feasts for the Jewish people. It is the time when they remember how God delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt.
God gave the Jews very specific instructions about how to observe Passover and each and every detail was symbolic, visual aid if you will, to remind them of God’s great acts of mercy for the children of Abraham.
The Passover Lamb represented the lambs Israel sacrificed on the night of their escape from Egypt, its blood painted on door as a signal to the Angel of Death to spare their homes.
The Passover wine represented joy, and with each cup poured, they recited their deliverance story.
The bread was eaten without leaven to remind the Jews that on the night of their deliverance from Egypt, they didn’t even have time to allow the bread to rise.
The bitter herbs reminded them of the bitter yoke of slavery.
Even their posture while eating was significant. They were to lie down for the meal, because only servants stood to eat and they were no longer slaves.
Jesus’s Last Passover
Jesus and his followers observed the Passover in compliance with the law, following each and every symbolic step.
But when it came time to drink the wine and eat the bread, he expanded the symbolism to encompass the new, and greater, deliverance Jesus would bring to all of humanity through his death and resurrection.
The bread became more than a reminder of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery, it captured the cost of delivering all Creation from the slavery of sin and death.
“Take it;” Jesus said as he handed the broken bread to his disciples. “This is my body.” Mark 14:22
The Spotless Lamb of God lifted the cup of wine and blessed it as a symbol of a new covenant between God and man, one He would purchase with the shedding of his own blood.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the sins of many.” (Matthew 26:28)
Then, Jesus moved on to the seating arrangement.
The Last Will Be First
The table used in the last supper was a Roman triclinium table and the seating really mattered. In Jesus’s culture, the host took the second seat. The seats to the right and left of the host were considered places of honor. At the last supper, John received the one to Jesus’s right. Peter, surely hoped for, and probably expected, the place to Jesus’s left.
And Jesus gives it to…Judas.
That had to be really hard for Peter, and I kind of get that. God’s way is hard for me sometimes. There are moments it just seems so…upside down. His ways are not my ways at all.
I have a soft spot for Peter. He was all good intentions and epic fails, pure passion and cringe-worthy faux pas. Peter was the kind of guy with a heart as big as Texas, and a mouth to match it.
He even told Jesus off on more than one occasion. Once, when Peter was straightening out the Most High, Jesus responded by calling him “Satan.”
And on this, the last night Jesus will ever spend with his friends, Peter is at it again. It was one thing for Jesus to sit him in the last seat, the servant’s seat, but Jesus had more to say about the role of a servant in the Kingdom of God.
And he decided to do it with an object lesson.
He got up, took off his outer garment, tied a towel around his waist, and began to wash his disciples feet just like lowly servant. Peter was appalled.
“You will never wash my feet,” Peter tells Jesus.
But Jesus can’t let Peter get away with it. The stakes are too high.
“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” Jesus responded. A moment later in John 13:12-17, he drives home the lesson of the evening to the disciples, the future leaders of the church. He has a lot to say, but it can be summed up like this-
Be a servant.
If you lead, be a servant. If you want to represent Christ in the world, be a servant. If you really intend to imitate Jesus, be a servant.
Like Jesus, humble yourself beyond all that seems reasonable, or even socially acceptable, and serve, serve, serve.
It was Jesus’s last night with his friends. He had precious hours left to teach them, and servanthood was lesson he chose.
It is worth remembering.