October 17, 2020
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’
“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
What a question! Let’s read this text as addressed to us.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?”
The short answer: Yes, Jesus, you washed our feet.
On the surface, yes. Something much deeper happened beneath the surface. Jesus all at once acknowledges the power dynamics and differentials in human relationships while collapsing status distinctions within them.
Watch how it works. He acknowledges the power dynamics:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. . . . Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master.”
Jesus is the Rabbi. Disciples are the followers. Jesus is the Master. Disciples are the students. There is a clear differential here and Jesus has the power. Now, watch what he does with it.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
Jesus does not divest himself of his power, nor does he try to pretend there is no power differential between he and his disciples. He collapses the power dynamics and the status-based relationships by reversing them. The greatest actually makes himself the least and so reveals true greatness.
It’s not about people in power giving lip service to equality. This is not about equality. It’s far more radical than that. It’s about identity. Jesus shows us his identity is not shaped by his role. It’s just the opposite. His role is shaped by his identity. That’s why he washed our feet.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing; and taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and found in the appearance of a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Come, Holy Spirit, and form this very mind in us. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen (see also Philippians 2:5-11).
1. How do you understand what Jesus did for us in washing our feet?
2. Do you see how doing acts of service is quite possibly a very different thing than taking on the nature of a servant? Why?
3. Do you see the critical distinction between our identity being determined by our activity versus our activity being determined by our identity? Why does this matter?
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