He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples, feet and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded— Joh_13:5
Jesus’ Love for His Disciples
From this point onward in the Gospel of St. John, we have the private communion of Jesus with His disciples. When one is leaving for a distant country, and has transacted all necessary business with the outside world, he is fain to spend the few remaining hours in the sweet intimacy of the family circle. So Jesus, when the shadows of His departure stole around Him, dwelt in loving communion with His own. It is to this that John is pointing when he says, “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (Joh_13:1). He does not mean until the end of life. He means unto the end and limit of all love. Christ‘s love, like His life, is endless and unchangeable. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow in its depths. But in the latter hours of that now shadowed communion, there was such outwelling of the eternal passion, that John felt that its tides were at the full. Christ always loved them; now He loved them utterly. That was the thought borne in on the disciple. Yet mark that this uttermost showing of Jesus’ love did not lie in unchecked and passionate avowals, but in an action of the lowliest service, and in teaching that would make the loved ones strong. The noblest love must always keep its secrets. It becomes weak when it protests too much. The love of Jesus is the perfect pattern of what the love of every young man and woman ought to be. Note, too, that in this little prologue (Joh_13:1-3), there is the note of knowledge as well as of love. The proverb has it that love is blind; but the love of Jesus was very far from that. He knew that the hour was come that He should depart (Joh_13:1). He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands (Joh_13:3). He knew who should betray Him (Joh_13:11). It was under the illumination of that knowledge that Jesus washed the feet of John and Judas. Does not that augment the wonder of the deed? Does it not set the crown upon its lowliness? Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich.
A Lesson on Humility
While supper, then, was proceeding, on the night before the Passover [for so we ought to translate it, instead of “supper being ended” (Joh_13:2)], Jesus rose from the table to perform this deed. Now the customary time for washing the feet of guests—and where men wore sandals and the heat was sweltering it was a very grateful and a very gracious practice—the customary moment for cleansing the feet was not during the mealtime, but before it. Here, then, there had been some little delay. The service had been omitted on this occasion. And I feel certain it had been omitted because no disciple was lowly enough to offer it. Probably it was about this very hour that they were disputing who should be the greatest (Luk_22:24). They were men like ourselves (we may thank God for it), and they had almost everything yet to learn. And was Peter, who had been arguing for his precedence, going to stoop down and wash the feet of John? And was John (who had his own thoughts about the traitor) going to play the servant to Iscariot? It was intolerable. It was impossible. They were willing to do much, but never that. So with hot feet (and hotter hearts) they went to supper, and Jesus saw it all and loved them still. Then Jesus rose and laid aside His garments. The bitterest rebukes are deeds, not words. He poured the water into a basin. He took the towel and girded Himself for service. And I think that when John, in his revelation on Patmos, saw the Son of Man girt with a golden girdle (Rev_1:13), he would recall this girding at the supper. So Jesus (whose own feet were to be pierced so soon) washed His disciples’ feet, and dried them. Did He say to Himself, as He washed the feet of Thomas, “These feet will be beautiful upon the distant mountains”? Or did He say, as He dried the feet of Judas, “These will soon lead the mob into the Garden”? I do not know. But I am sure that in the stern and stormy years to come, not one of the eleven would ever have his tired feet washed, but he would recall this memorable hour.
One Major and Many Minor Cleansings
Meanwhile Jesus was approaching Peter, and the eleven were wondering what Peter would do. Perhaps Peter had been the noisiest in asserting that they would never catch him playing the foot-washer. And now, what a tumult there was in Peter’s breast. What a tangle of good and evil in the man. All that was best in him (his reverence for his Lord), and all that was worst in him (his pride), made him draw up his foot as if the Lord’s hand had stung it. But there was one thing that was all the world to Peter. It was the friendship of his glorious Master. And his Master (who is the unrivalled Master of the heart) touched, with His exquisite tenderness, that chord. “If I wash thee not, thou has no part with me.” The very suggestion stabbed like a dagger. Peter thrust out his hands and bent down his head to Jesus: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Then Jesus teaches the lesson of the bath (Joh_13:10). If a man has bathed, and then has soiled his feet, must he plunge his whole body into the bath again? Will he not be truly cleansed (after his bath) if the particular defilement be removed? So, once and for all, a man is justified; once and for all, he is regenerated. And it is the stain here and the defilement there (contracted on the hot and dusty highway) that the risen Savior cleanses every sunset.
Deferred Understanding / Conditional Partnership / Humble Service
Now let us note three lessons on the story. First, we may not understand Christ at the time (Joh_13:7). There is not a child but must do a hundred tasks that she cannot see the worth and meaning of. There is not a mother but might croon to her little baby, “What I do, thou knowest not now.” Do not wonder, then, if Christ acts as our mothers do. All children live by faith and not by sight. Next notice Christ’s condition of having part with Him. “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” It is not, “If I teach or lead thee not”—far less is it, “If I love thee not.” The one condition of partnership with Jesus is to be cleansed by His Spirit and His blood. Last, note Christ’s call to loving and lowliest service. That is the center and sum of the whole story. “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Joh_13:14). We sometimes talk of the language of the hands. And sometimes of the language of the eyes. But I think there is also a language of the feet, and I could translate the whole Gospel into it. For first comes Jesus (when we are bowed with sin) and He says, “Son of man, stand upon thy feet.” And then comes Jesus (when we wish to serve Him), and He says to us, “Wash one another’s feet.” And then in the morning, when we are His forever, it is at His feet that we shall cast our crowns.
Lord Jesus, Manifest your strength in my Weakness, Let your Mercy and your favor locate me today in your Holy Name i pray. Amen.