If You Can't Wash Their Feet, How Will You Die for Them?

The first chapter of John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the logos (Greek forthe Word”).  A word communicates something; Jesus is what God wants to say to the world.  In fact, New Testament scholar Francis Moloney loosely translates John 1:18 as:  “He [Jesus] has told God’s story.”

As the divine logos, not only Jesus’ words but everything he does express something to us about God.  Jesus is not just a messenger of God’s words; he is God’s self-expression.

John is the only Gospel that tells the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper.  In this unique story, the divine logos speaks loudly.  John does not narrate the details of the meal or what we now call the "institution of the Eucharist."  Instead, he tells a simple story about Jesus with a basin of water and a towel, doing something we never expected.  He washes the dirty feet of his friends.

Peter is appalled, remember?  But Jesus is patient.  He says to Peter, “What I am doing, you will not understand now.  But you will understand later.”  When he is finished, he asks his friends, “Do you know what I have done for you?  I have given you a model to follow.”  And of course we know from the other words and actions of Jesus, all expressions of the Father, that this is not only something we should do for our friends, but for anyone in need, and for our enemies too.

The footwashing is startling, and Jesus’ command to imitate his humble deed asks a lot of us.  But it is nothing compared to the Cross.  Ultimately, this is where Jesus goes.  This is where he says to us again, “What I am doing, you will not understand now.  But you will understand later.”  This is where he asks us for the last time, “Do you know what I have done for you?  I have given you a model to follow.”  This is where we hear the echo of John’s testimony about Jesus:  “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (13:1).

Now imagine your friends, and those who need you, and your enemies – those who have hurt you or failed you, those in your life who are most difficult to love, respect or care for.  Now imagine that you take up a towel and a basin of water.  Imagine that you kneel down and carefully wash their feet, and gently dry them.  You might not want to do it at first, although you know God has done it for you so many times.  But if you can’t wash the feet of every person in your life, how will you go to the Cross, how will you lay down your life for them, how will you love your own to the end?

Jesus has told God’s story.  And now we are his logos, his Word, his self-expression in the world.  We have been given a model to follow.  Will we do it?

To meditate further on the text of John 13, click here.

 Ford Madox Brown,  Jesus Washing Peter's Feet , 1856

Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, 1856