This week’s preaching text is a parable– of sorts–not in words but in actions as we see Jesus kneeling at the feet of his disciples, washing the travel dust from them. More properly speaking it is probably a metaphor more than a parable.
The disciples had come to that upper room full of jealousy and rivalry. From Luke’s version of this evening (Luke 22:24) we learn that they didn’t much like each other that night. In fact, they were so angry they refused to wash one another’s feet when no servant was present to do this menial task.
So as they arrive in the upper room, after stating and urging their own claims to prominence, they do so in a state of ruffled emotions. Grumbling to themselves they take their places like sulking children.
Jesus finally decides to put an end to their petty pouting. He stands, takes off his outer robe, pours water in a basin, wraps a towel around his waist and begins to wash the calloused, dirty feet of his disciples. It is difficult to imagine how this bunch must have felt while he did this. Here they had been wrapped in self-interest and arguing about who would be the greatest among them, or maybe more correctly in the style of many church experiences today— who was the least among them. As they reclined at the table, in the style of the day, Jesus, their lord and master stooped to serve them like a common slave.
Meda Stamper, a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, with a Ph.D. in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary, reminds us in her comments on the text that “…love is the first main verb of [this] passage in Greek [ἀγαπήσας]. It rises from a sea of subordinate clauses in John 13:1-3. Love governs all of that, all that has come before, and all that is to come. Because everything else is subordinate, love and the foot washing as an expression of that love emerge as Jesus’ informed response to all of it: the festival [of the Passover] and with it the unfolding of Jesus’ hour, the world beloved and dark, Satan and Judas, Jesus’ own in the world then and now….”
As you reflect on the passage this week, the prayer of Leslie Weatherhead, a saint of another era, is commended to you: “When a foul egotism arises up within me, bidding me assert myself, serve my own interest, and look out for number one— then, O Lord, as I listen down the corridors of the years, may I hear the gentle sloshing of water in a basin and see the SON OF GOD washing his disciples feet. Amen.”
This week’s lessons for study: Psalm 51:7-12 and John 13:1-7