The Glorious Diversity of Christ’s Love for His Own (Part Two)
In the previous article we looked at the marvelous ways in which Jesus loves his own. There are five of them in John 13:1-5, and here we turn our attention to the final two. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article we looked at the marvelous ways in which Jesus loves his own. There are five of them in John 13:1-5, and here we turn our attention to the final two.
(4) Fourth, his love was not merely an inward affection, but made itself known by an altogether unexpected and socially offensive outward expression (vv. 4-11).
Here is Jesus thinking of eternal glory, exaltation, power and authority. And what does he do? Does he bark out commands: “Peter, bring me my purple robe. John, my scepter. Matthew, my golden crown. Phillip, prepare my throne.” No.
Contrary to what Da Vinci portrayed in his famous painting, “The Last Supper,” Jesus and his disciples would not have been seated in chairs in front of a long table. The custom of the day was to recline on thin mats in a circle surrounding a low table, each person leaning on one arm with the other free to use for eating. Their feet, obviously, would have extended outward from the table.
Everything was in place. The pitcher, the basin, the water, the towel. But no one moved. Not so much as a stirring. Each man would have looked at the others, wondering who was going to take the initiative, secretly hoping it would not fall on his own shoulders.
All of us are familiar with the custom of foot washing, even those who have never actually participated in it. I was raised a Southern Baptist and had only heard of the practice existing among other, so-called “primitive” Baptists. During my four years at Wheaton College Ann and I were members of an Anglican church that observed this ritual once each year during holy week. The first time I attended the service I chose not to participate. I didn’t know what to do and hadn’t given much thought to its significance, so I abstained. And to be honest, I was a bit uncomfortable with something so intimate and new.
The next year I was determined to participate, so I made all the adequate preparations. I washed my feet in advance as thoroughly as I ever had! I made certain to select clean socks and even put a little sweet-smelling powder in my shoes! The last thing I wanted was to offend some unsuspecting student of mine with an offensive odor.
How utterly unlike the first century. Absent paved roads and concrete sidewalks, the ancient world was accustomed to the dirt and filth and ugliness of having walked all day in open-toed sandals. Washing another’s feet was profoundly unpleasant. This is one reason it was a task assigned to the household slave. No one would ever have expected a member of the family, and far less a guest, to stoop so low as to wash another’s feet.
But the principal objection to this act was less physical than social. Yes, it was physically distasteful. Make no mistake about that. But more important still was the social indignity of it all. As best we can tell, there isn’t a single recorded instance in all of Jewish or Greco-Roman sources of a superior washing the feet of a subordinate. That is, until now!
Suddenly, the last thing the disciples could possibly have expected happened. Jesus rose from his place, removed his outer garment, girded himself with a towel, knelt down on his knees and began doing what was to their mind inconceivable and utterly inappropriate. Jesus was simply acting consistently with his own teaching: “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27b).
(5) Fifth, and finally, what are we to make of the fact that Jesus washed the feet of his worst and most faithless enemy, Judas Iscariot?
Why do I say he washed Judas’s feet? First of all, we know Judas was present when this incident took place because of what we read in vv. 21-30. Second, the text repeatedly refers to the “disciples” as a group without suggesting that Judas was an exception. And third, if Jesus had not washed the feet of Judas surely the others would have noticed and would have asked why, or would not have gone on to ask in v. 25 who it was that would betray him. Such would have been obvious from the fact that only Judas had been left out of the foot washing experience.
No, I can’t prove beyond doubt that he washed the feet of Judas. It is, after all, an argument from silence. But the evidence seems to weigh in favor of concluding he did.
So what? What does that tell us? Maybe Jesus was unaware of Judas’s intent. Maybe he didn’t know what Judas was planning on doing and thus washed his feet thinking he was as committed as Peter and John and the others. Or maybe Judas himself had not yet decided to betray Jesus. No. Although v. 2 doesn’t say that Jesus already knew that Satan had put it into Judas’s heart to betray him, v. 11 makes it clear that he was aware of who the traitor was. The washing of Judas’s feet does not mean he was saved (see vv. 10-11). Does it suggest he was being given one last chance to repent? I doubt it.
Perhaps the point of Jesus’ washing the feet of Judas (what must Judas have thought as he looked down into the eyes of Jesus as this happened?) was simply to demonstrate to us how we are to love our enemies. The next time you wonder how to relate to your worst enemy, the person who repeatedly slanders you and gossips about you and betrays you and deceives you . . . just picture in your mind Jesus on hands and knees, washing the filthy feet of Judas Iscariot.
Often we love and serve others only because we hope the person will reciprocate. But Jesus knew the only thing he would ever receive back from Judas was betrayal.
So, how do you cope when everything in your life conspires to convince you that God couldn’t possibly love anyone as wretched as you, anyone as much a failure as you perceive yourself to be? What is your response when, in the depths of your soul, you feel like a complete disaster and a constant disappointment to God? How do you manage? What strategy do you employ just to survive?
Are you the sort of person who puts on a smile all the while suppressing the pain and resisting the temptation to run away from friends and family and especially the church? Or are you the kind of individual who turns to the latest cultural gimmick or self-help formula or most recent New York Times bestselling book or perhaps whatever it is that Oprah is offering to help you feel good about yourself again?
If anything is clear to us in this story in John 13, it is that there’s a better way, a more satisfying solution, a more Christ-exalting answer to your self-doubts and the contempt you so often feel for yourself. The answer is found in the unshakeable reality of God’s love for you in Christ Jesus. You are “his own” and he will love you all the way to the end, even though you are still in the world and the world is still in you.
I want this passage of Scripture to become an immovable rock of assurance and safety for you. I want it to become a safe haven, a refuge to which you can always retreat when the reality of God’s love for you seems distant and far removed.