In Jesus’ day the task of washing feet was reserved for the lowest of the servants. In our scripture lesson today, the one with the basin and towel is the king of the universe. Feel the tension, and feel the love as Jesus silently washes the feet of all the disciples – even Judas’. Jesus knows that, by the next morning, these men will have abandoned him at his arrest fearfully running as far and as fast as they were able, and as Jesus was crucified, they were in hiding, nowhere to be found near the cross! Amazingly, Jesus, in this act of foot washing, forgave their sin before they even committed it. He offered mercy before they even sought it. He still does today!
Having the heart of Jesus in us is the basis of our series of messages for the next few weeks as we prepare for Lent and ponder just how would Jesus love and how does he empower and expect us to love like he does? Mylicia first reminded us that Jesus loves us by forgiving the sinner. How well do we forgive those who “sin” against us? Last week we considered that Jesus loves us by compassionately breaking bread with us. Today, let’s look at one of the most gracious acts of love demonstrated by Jesus as he loved his disciples enough to wash their feet.
A monk once preached on God’s love for the Good Friday service. In the darkness, the monk lighted a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First, he illumined the crown of thorns, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the silence of that moment, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say. The cross is the place we start in learning of God’s love for us and Jesus teaches us 3 attributes of God’s love in the foot washing story: Jesus’ love humbly stoops, Jesus’ love sees and responds and, Jesus’ love sets the example.
Jesus’ love stoops in humility. Have you ever considered that love stoops – physically at times and symbolically at others? In this story, notice how Jesus stooped or kneeled to wash his disciple’s feet. Love stoops. How many people have “stooped” to love us over the years? They may not have kneeled in front of us, but they did make an effort to show us their love. They stoop in taking the time to see us, write us, call us or pray for us. They stoop when they buy us what we needed. They stoop when working extra to be able to pay for whatever was needed – like a parent paying for school or medical expenses does for their child when they take on an extra job. Love stoops. And Jesus is the perfect example of how to stoop in humility when showing love to another.
Jesus’ love sees a need and responds. Jesus realizes that no one had washed dirty feet, and they had already begun their Seder meal. So, he got up and washed the feet of every person in the room – including Judas. Jesus used this moment for a spiritual lesson and example: when you see a need, respond with love and grace. Jesus washed the disciple’s feet as a physical example of how he would spiritually wash their dirty hearts and souls with his blood shed on the cross.
Have you ever had someone wash your feet? It can be a very humbling experience. I have had the opportunity to both wash someone’s feet and to have someone wash mine and I don’t know about you, but I would always rather be the one doing the washing rather than the one receiving the washing. Why is that? Perhaps it is a control thing. When I wash another’s feet, I am in charge. But when reversed, I can only receive and have no control over any part of the experience. That is what God wants from us regarding God’s love and grace – to receive and allow God to be in control at all times.
Jesus’ love sets an example to follow. The subtle part of this story is that Jesus washes Judas’ feet even though he knew that Judas was about to betray him to the Jewish leaders. This is the difficult part of how God’s love rules in our lives. It is natural to love those people that love us, but it is supernatural to love those persons who hate us.
The example Jesus set that night for every Christian disciple is this– love others in Jesus’ name period! Do whatever is needed to love others regardless of status, entitlement or reward. Jesus tells his disciples in verse 14: “Now that I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
At first, Edwin Stanton snubbed President Abraham Lincoln personally and professionally, referring to him as “that baboon.” But Lincoln saw Stanton’s abilities and chose to forgive him, even appointing Stanton as Secretary of War during the Civil War. Stanton later grew to love Lincoln as a friend. It was Stanton who sat by Lincoln’s bed throughout the night after the president was shot at Ford’s Theater and whispered through tears on his passing, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Reconciliation is a beautiful thing. The apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Peter’s words cause one to wonder if he was thinking of his own denial of Jesus and the forgiveness Jesus offered him (and us) through the cross.
Richard Halverson once said, “There is nothing you can to do make God love you more! There is nothing you can do to make God love you less! His love is Unconditional, Impartial, Everlasting, Infinite, Perfect!” The deep love Jesus demonstrated through His death on the cross frees us from the debt for our sins and opens the way for our reconciliation with God (Colossians 1:19–20).
His forgiveness empowers us to forgive others. When we love others because Jesus loves them and forgive because Jesus has forgiven us, God gives us strength to let go of the past and walk forward with Him into beautiful new places of grace. Real love stoops; real love responds to another’s need; real love sets an example to be followed by others. Real love starts with Jesus!