Over the months and years, whenever we discussed John we knew we were being asked to listen carefully to his words and phrases; what they revealed often defied literal interpretation. Reading John, not unlike reading poetry required the need to rest with them as the “personification” of the word became flesh in us, as they “circumvented” our intellect and went straight to our heart. In John, the understanding of any key word eventually leads to all the key words. They draw meaning from each other, or more accurately, from their connections to the words and works of Christ. They resist definition, serving more as “signs” to Christ.
John was never interested in providing an historical account of Jesus’ life; he left that to the others. He was more interested in Jesus’ divinity. Yet and not ironically for him, John uses this gospel, John 13:1-17, 31b-35 to reveal Jesus’ divinity by emphasizing his humanity in some of the most human and visceral of all experiences: the washing of feet and the sharing of a meal.
Thus, Jesus’ command to love, tied to the example of the foot washing, lies at the heart of this day. The passage reveals that Jesus’ actions are intentionally shaped as acts of love meant as examples to be followed. Yet in life, not everyone readily accepts Jesus’ love. John uses Peter, the disciple closest to him to show the difficulties humans may encounter. Peter’s first words seem simply incredulous, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus’ act is socially inappropriate and incomprehensible, and Peter means to dissuade him of such foolishness. Yet why is Peter not bothered that Jesus offers others such a sign of love? What is John telling us? What is Jesus teaching us?
Sharing in Jesus involves being served by him, even in so lowly and intimate an act as foot washing. Jesus commands us to “love one another” by his actions. As such, he focuses our attention on foot washing as an example of Christian love and captures the essence of “just as I have loved you.”
Judas’s presence at the supper also serves to remind us that the example Jesus sets is not simply one of service to an elite group of believers. Including Judas in the washing of feet and the sharing of the meal helps us understand that this sharing is not just reserved for those he loved “to the utmost;” the love for “one another” is understood to include even those others we might prefer to forget and disassociate.
John makes sure that we know that the glorification of Son for Father is not just something between Father and Son alone; it does not stop with Christ. The capacity to glorify God extends to Christ's followers and is laid upon believers as we are empowered to do the same works that Christ did. What is true for Jesus is true for us.
What Jesus did on the last night before he died wasn't all that different from what he did throughout his ministry. That's one of the many reasons we say that Jesus was the perfect human being. As the Incarnation of God and living his full humanity, Jesus lived out who he was fully.
John presents Jesus at the end of his earthly experience in all his humanity: Was he afraid? Was he angry? Was he lonely? While we have no way of knowing, we can only assume in his having lived his life fully human, it’s likely these thoughts and emotions were real.
What we do know is that when Jesus had every reason to feel all of those things, he stayed with the community -- including his betrayer -- and cleansed, and cared, and forgave, and broke bread.
What would our lives, our churches, our denominations, our nations, our world be like if we were to embrace and express our humanity in God's image as Jesus did? Do this. Do this and remember.