Monday, March 16, 2015

Foot Washing: A Lenten Meditation

Foot washing: a Lenten Meditation*

Jesus, knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, and that he'd come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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… After he had washed their feet and he put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. But if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you servants are not greater than their master nor are messengers greater than the one who has sent them. If you know these things you are blessed to do them.” (John 13:3-5,12-17)

I envision this scene in a room with a low table, perhaps a bit higher than a coffee table, with cushions or low benches around it. This was in the room where they were to celebrate the Passover. The disciples were sitting around this table waiting for the start of the traditional celebration meal commemorating the Exodus. 

So getting up from the place of honor at the meal, Jesus took off his robe, took a towel, or what would probably look like a large thick homespun off-white cloth of either linen or wool, and tied it around his waist like an apron. There may have been a table with a pitcher of water, and a basin probably already set there by the owner of the room, perhaps for the purification ritual for their hands.

If you have visualized here the paintings of the foot washing from during the Renaissance with the disciples lining up in front of Jesus, I think you need to change your thinking: the text says that Jesus was the one who picked up the wash basin and carried it to the first disciple and began to wash his feet.

There is no added dialogue in John’s Gospel.  Did Jesus have to tell the first stunned disciple “Give me your foot” in the same way a mother would as she  undressed her child to get her ready for a bath. Did he say, “Hold still" while he washed off those feet.  Did he put that confuse man’s sandals back on for him, or did he just pick up the basin and move to the next man. 

Remember that John the Baptist said he himself, was not worthy to tie Jesus’ sandals; So I wonder if Jesus tied the disciples sandals for them?

We have to remember this was the service the household slave would have provided, but since we know from the Synoptics that this was a borrowed room and there was no host mentioned for this Passover there was no slave to meet Jesus or his disciples at the door.

This was an amazing service that Jesus did for his disciples. This same Jesus raised both Lazarus and Jairus' daughter from the dead. This is the same Jesus that gave sight to the blind. This is the same Jesus who died for our sins. How could we miss the idea of making an effort to serve our fellow man?

 After all Jesus did.

Jesus finished washing all 12 of the disciples feet, took the basin and put it aside, then took the towel off, folded it up and set it down, then put his robe back on. But as he returned to the table, he said to them “… you know what I have done for you? You call me teacher and Lord – and you are right, that is what I am. So I your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet”

Can you hear the challenge?

Can you serve your brothers and sisters in Christ?

The messy, obnoxious, burdensome, take you 15 extra minutes-out-of-your way service?

One last thought: Could you wash the feet of your enemy?

Jesus did.

*I originally posted this in December of 2012

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