90 Days With Jesus, Day 63: John 13:12-20: Better than Jesus?

John 13:12-20 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 63)

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. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. 18“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ 19“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

It makes one wonder, doesn’t it? You know, if we’ve missed the blessing he promised for doing ‘these things’. It makes one wonder, doesn’t it, what ‘these things’ are. I argued in my last post that we should follow his example and wash one another’s feet. What Jesus said, however, is this: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” It is not enough to merely have information about such things. One must take the information, what we know, and put it into practice, what we do. James the apostle is quite adamant on this particular point:

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25, NIV).

What is utterly shocking is that Jesus told us these things and James had to repeat them. I think James’ repetition of Jesus’ statements utterly rule out the mere cultural dimension of Jesus’ statements. But I shall not press the issue here. I understand that when it comes to foot washing we are a bit squeamish, perhaps more about having our feet washed than about actually washing another’s feet. Still, and here I’m sort of thinking out loud, I wonder why it is that foot washing never quite reached the standard of sacrament as did baptism, Eucharist, and, to a lesser extent, marriage?

Jesus says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” What, then, are the things we know and in what way are they commands for us to obey? Or, are they commands we must obey? Just exactly what sort of ‘blessing’ is Jesus talking about here? What sort of ‘blessedness’ is he referring to in this context? Well, I don’t have time to unpack all of the ideas here so I shall restrict myself to a couple or three thoughts about what Jesus says we now know.

First, we now know what he did for them. What did he do? He demonstrated the full extent of his love for them by washing their feet. Now, whatever the cultural implications of these verses (whether or not we should wash feet or not) one this is certain: Loving one another to the fullest extent is not an option. I wonder indeed how much labor the church has wasted evangelizing a world that will not accept us precisely because we don’t love one another to the fullest extent, because we simply won’t wash one another’s feet? We are left with no options when it comes to one another and the love we have. I do not believe for a minute that it is unimportant that Jesus washed Judas Iscariot’s feet. And if Jesus, the ‘teacher’ and the ‘Lord’ washed Judas Iscariot’s feet, how much more should we wash the feet of those we know (‘for Jesus knew which of them would betray him’)? It does sort of help us understand why John mentions Judas so much in this thirteenth chapter.

What a contrast Jesus is to us! We have gone out of our way to sacralize Communion and baptism, but we have not taken one step in the direction of sacralizing the love we are supposed to have for one another. What a shame this is because, as Jesus said, we know this and if we did it we would be blessed. I suspect the church has missed out on a great deal of blessedness because we are so contrary about who we will love and who we will not love. (And because we brag about it as if that were a badge of honor.)

Second, we know who he is: Teacher and Lord. Jesus agrees: Yes, that is what I am. Those two titles accurately summarize the person of Jesus. Jesus says, in effect, that is not nearly enough. I’m not someone you merely listen to, nor someone you, rightly, worship and obey. I’m also someone whose actions you are to emulate. What are those actions but serving, doing the most menial work, the most trivial work, the most dehumanizing work? It wasn’t just about the nature of the work being done though. I think it was about something far more than just the fact that Jesus did a work reserved for the lowest of the low. I think it was also about his willingness to do so and, also, this: No one else was doing it. Evidently there were no servants in the house to wash feet. Evidently no one else was standing up or kneeling down to wash their feet. We see in this story a Jesus who takes the initiative to do what no one else was doing nor was willing to do.

Is this not the nature of the cross? Is this not the nature of the One who does what no one else will do? Not only did Jesus wash feet, not only could he wash feet, but he was willing to wash feet. The Teacher and the Lord humbled himself and shamed everyone in the process. Then he has the nerve, the utter audacity to say: “And you should do the same.” I wonder, out loud again, if we are actually un-blessed because we don’t do these things? I mean, if doing them releases us into a state of blessedness, what would be the result of our failure to imitate Jesus?

Third, we know that a ‘servant is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.’ We know this and yet we persist in unbelief! What I mean is, we know we are not greater than Jesus in our heads, but we certainly do not know it in our actions. Right? In our actions we act as if we are far better than Jesus. We explain things away: “Well, foot washing was merely a cultural thing. Jesus used that as a metaphor to say we should really, really love one another.” Well, Jesus later did say that. But Jesus could have chosen any metaphor to demonstrate how we are to love one another. He didn’t have to use an example he knew would be culturally obsolete a few years after his death. Did Jesus in fact deliberately choose foot washing because he knew we would split hairs about it?

Fact is, we do think we are better than Jesus who touched lepers, ate with sinners, spoke to prostitutes, ate dinner with Pharisees (and we do have those in our modern world), and, eventually, gave himself up on the cross. I think sometimes we American Christians believe, really believe, deep down, that Jesus has not called us to ‘take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him.’ I really think that most Christians are absolutely persuaded that Jesus only meant that for the culture he was living in and that the cruciform life, the Crucifixion Driven Life, is, like foot washing, a cultural anomaly. Is this not why certain ‘feel-good,’ ‘Jesus loves you’ preachers’ ministries are thriving? Is this not way the prosperity gospel (which is really no gospel at all) continues to make its advocates (not its constituents) richer and richer and richer every passing day? Is this not why advocates of healing and well-being ministries continue to prosper even though there is not a shred of medical evidence to persuade anyone that they are actually healing anyone of anything? The fact is, we think we are better than Jesus. Fact is, we think that we can skip out on things like foot-washing. But failing to wash feet is only a half-step away from failing to love one another. If we can’t do the easy things, how are we ever going to do the hard things?

It is terrifying the sort of Christianity that is being perpetuated by and perpetrated upon a generation of unsuspecting humans. Most of them end up just like Judas Iscariot. Jesus comes in and washes their feet and gives them every opportunity in the world to be blessed, but they won’t wash feet. Then they turn Jesus over to the authorities. The very closest, the friend of Jesus, is the very one who will lift up his heel against Jesus.

I wonder if perhaps the church doesn’t need to get back to foot washing, or feet washing. I wonder if it isn’t time for the church to re-evaluate its stance on the whole ‘should we love one another or not’ thing. I ask again: If we are blessed for doing such things, are we un-blessed for not doing such things? Are we worse than the one who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like? Are we that bad? Can the true church be recovered? What will it take?

I think it will take: A basin of water, a couple of towels, and one person who is willing to do what no one else in the church is willing or even interested in doing. Oh, and at least two dirty feet.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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