Reflections on John 13- read the first 17 verses for context – edited from what I shared at FMC this past Sunday.
This section of the passion narrative in John begins with an enacted parable, that of foot washing. We know that much of what Christ taught was taught in parables, and this is no different. This was a farewell gesture by which Jesus reinforced his earlier teaching about the new kind of love which needs to be the hallmark of the Christian community. By it, Jesus provides an example of how his followers should behave, and ensure that his disciples will continue to be part of him and he of them after he was taken from them in a physical, tangible sense.
In the middle of this arguement about literal stinky feet and the implications of performing the act that only the lowliest servant traditionally performed, that of washing the dust, grime and manure off of the feet of his master’s guests, Christ lays down an example for us.
We have heard many times how this practice conveys the truth of our need to be cleansed on the the inside as well as the outside.
However, This is also Christ teaching us about Lordship, servanthood, and pride. There are two kinds of pride present in the followers of Christ, both in this parable and in our particular body in this time and place. Bluntly put, we are too proud to let others serve us, and other times we prefer to stand in judgment rather than serving others.
We see Peter flatly telling Christ there is no way that he will let him wash his feet in verse 8. He knew that is was considered inappropriate for the master to serve his servants. Yet, Christ puts flesh on his commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves by washing the feet of his disciples. In that, is a lesson for our day- it is pride that made Peter attempt to deny Christ’s right to wash his feet, in our world, it is often pride and fear of what others may think of us that causes us to refuse to be open to other members of the body of Christ. Sometimes, it is because we prefer to bear a grudge rather than go to someone to ask for forgiveness, sometimes, its because we don’t want people to think less of us if we ask them for help, and sometimes, frighteningly enough it is because we are terrified of being seen as less than the perfect Christian if we ask others to walk beside us and strengthen us in our walk of faith.
If we are willing to be honest with ourselves, all of us fit, have fit, or will fit into one of those three categories at nearly every point in our relationship with a body of believers. In a world where individual fulfilment and achievement are held up as the ultimate markers of success, Christ Himself shows us that individualism is a lie, a false hope, and not the way of the Eternal Kingdom.
Secondly, Christ addresses our tendency to stand in judgement on our brothers and sisters in Christ as we see in verse 13 and 16. Many times as we walk our daily lives, it is easy to condemn and write off those members of the church body that we don’t meet our self induced, self inflicted standards. Christ points out here that this is wrong- as ambassadors or messangers of Christ, we are not greater than he is. We are told in Scripture that God is the judge- not us. We are called to humble ourselves to wash each others feet. That means that when we see someone struggling, we don’t go talk to our friends about it, instead, we go to our brother and sister and pray with them, knowing that the only real hope for either of us is that Christ died in our place. When we understand that we are no different, we can begin to walk with people. We do well at being Christians who are a mile wide but only an inch deep, but that will not do. As Christ demonstrated for us, we are to be willing to get dirty as we live out his commandment of loving and serving our neighbours as ourselves.
I was struck by this as I looked as this passage, how pride is a two way street. It as just as sinful to refuse to be open and accountable to your brothers and sisters in the body as it is to judge and condemn others for not meeting your standards. Christ’s standard is servanthood, understanding our place as messengers of God’s eternal Kingdom. As we consider this, I beg you to reflect on this: what do your relationships with other members of your church body reflect? Do they reflect a warm bond of community based on shared culture and perceived successes? Or do they reflect that fact that we are called to do battle against sin together, and that the business of tending, caring for, and growing with each other is as dirty a business as washing feet in a New Testament context was? Verse 8 shares the reason that this question of “foot washing” is essential to our eternal destiny- if we do not do this, we have no part, or no share of the inheritance with Him”- its not me who is saying eternity is at stake here, it is the Creator of the Universe.
He waits for your response.