So He got up from the supper-table, took off His clothes, and wrapped a towel around Himself. Then He poured water into a bowl and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel He was wrapped in.
“I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
My wife Ana and I attended our first conference given by one of the monks at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, Eugene Hensell, in November. The title of the conference was “Praying With The Gospel Of John”, and was rich and refreshing to say the least! It was exquisitely awesome to hear the gleanings of a man who has not only dedicated his life to prayer, reflection, and holy work, but who has taught on the Gospel of John for about thirty years! Seeing as how we are not to just keep these things all to ourselves, I look forward to sharing some of the insights we absorbed from a most wonderful weekend.
In taking off His outer garment and wrapping a towel around Himself, Jesus demonstrably and clearly takes the role of servant, an easy to see sign of great humility. In His time and culture, males did not touch another person’s feet in public. True, this is a private setting with the disciples, but still would have been pretty awkward for them. Honor and superior position were celebrated, and any shame was feared.
Recall from the incredible prologue back in chapter one of John’s Gospel that he tells us just who this Jesus is–none other than the Creator of the universe, of all things. And now here He is in human form doing what only the most servile would do, washing the dusty feet of other men.
Somewhat side note: Jesus asks the disciples in verse 12, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?” This would be a good prayer question for meditation and contemplation. You might sit with this question from Jesus to you, and listen to what the Spirit might speak.
Then in verse 34 Jesus gives a new commandment: To love one another. “Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
What’s so new about this?
How has He loved us?
Well, it goes back to the foot washing. He has become our equal!
That’s how He’s loved us. And that’s how we are to love each other.
Again, the Creator of all things is now on our level washing our dirty feet. Rarely do you really see people loving one another as true equals. No one says, “I’m striving to be radically equal!” But this is Jesus’s key instruction on how to live as disciples after He is no longer here in physical form (v.15). In 15:12 He says, “You’re my friends if you do this.” Wow.
You may ask, “How can love be commanded?” Well, the command is a specific way to love. How we love can be shaped, and here is how you love like God loves. Jesus showed us God, and here we see the way God, who is love, loves: by stooping, giving up all rank, position, and power, and choosing to sacrificially become our equal even to the point of the cross, showing us tangibly that there is no place too low, where He won’t go to love us and demonstrate it clearly in plain sight. Radically.
Or we might even call it ridiculously humble service. Who is turned off by this? I mean, who doesn’t at least kind of wonder what a person has in them who serves others in this manner??
And this is how we are also to love–the way God loves (v.14). Recognizing, accepting, and internalizing just what He has done for us (not necessarily comprehending, because, let’s be honest, who really can?), will supernaturally energize and motivate us to love in this manner of radical equality.
Christmas is a fantastic time for gratefully remembering that God chose to enter the human condition, become one of us, taking on all of our limitations, problems, and suffering to make real the promise of redemption.