Written by Taylor Mertins, Pastor of Raleigh Court UMC in Roanoke, VA
The synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) treat us to the scene of Jesus’ final evening with his friends as they sit around a table sharing bread and wine.
John, however, takes the scene a little bit further.
While eating at the table, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. He begins washing all of the disciples’ feet and wipes them off with the towel around his waist.
Peter, of course, objects to the humble (read: humiliating) act of his Lord, but Jesus hits him hard with, “You do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Only after every disciple’s feet are washed does Jesus arise, and begins to teach:
“Listen, you call me Teacher and Lord which is good and fine because that is who I am. But check this out: If I, your Lord and Teacher, am willing to get down on the floor to wash your feet, you also out to wash one another’s feet. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about – the first being last and the last being first. Things are getting flipped upside down right here and right now. And I do and say all of this knowing that one of you will betray me, it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.’”
Shortly thereafter, Judas leaves and sets in motion the world turned upside down. In mere hours the guards will arrive in the garden, Jesus will be arrested, put on trial, sentenced, beaten, and left to die on the cross.
The foot washing has always been a little strange and a little weird to the people called church. For one, as mentioned, the other Gospels don’t include it, and for another, it reveals the heart of God in a way that feels uncomfortable.
Not only does Jesus, God in the flesh, get down on his knees to wash the dirty feet of the disciples, one of whom will shortly betray him, another will deny him, and the rest will leave him hanging to die on a cross, but then Jesus has the gall to command us to do the same for one another.
And yet, in a way, more than being told what we are supposed to do, the whole message of this final moment is, again, about what Jesus does for us.
In the foot washing, Jesus repeats in himself the great lengths to which God was willing to go for a people undeserving – how far God was willing to go to wash us clean from our transgressions.
This moment, one that might make us cringe or, at the very least, furrow our brows, it reveals to the disciples and to us that the Lord, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, is about to suffer and die just to rid us of the stench and dirt of sin and death that latches onto us.
And, notably, this is the final act of Jesus toward his disciples before Easter and, as John so wonderfully notes, Jesus loved his disciples to the end.
Do you see what this means? Even the worst stinker in the world, even the one who betrays his Lord to death, is someone for whom Christ died.
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus, bewilderingly, loves us to the end, loves us so much that he was willing to take our sin upon himself, mount the hard wood of the cross, and leave them there forever. Thanks be to God.