John 13:1–17, 31b–35 (NRSV)
Chapter 13Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Verse 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Verse 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, Verse 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Verse 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. Verse 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Verse 7Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Verse 8Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Verse 9Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Verse 10Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." Verse 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." Verse 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? Verse 13You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. Verse 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. Verse 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Verse 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Verse 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Verse 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. Verse 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Verse 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' Verse 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Verse 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
In the washing of his disciples’ feet, Jesus takes an ancient household custom and teaches a profound lesson that would echo throughout the ages, summarized by his new commandment to love one another.
I am often simultaneously amazed and grateful for the hundreds of deacons, pastors, and Christian public leaders who dedicate their time and insights to seminary students. We often ask them to invite the interns they mentor into ministry with the following teaching philosophy and pattern: You watch me lead, and we discuss; we lead together, and then we discuss; I watch you lead, and then we discuss. Time and time again in the gospels, the Rabbi Jesus would teach his disciples through similar rhythms and practices. Jesus’ foot-washing is a seminal moment in his teaching that would serve both as an example (verse 15) and as an invitation into lives of dynamic discipleship and service.
Dear Lord, our culture is fixated on division and polar extremes. Open our ears to truly listen and seek to understand our neighbor. When challenges come our way, strengthen our hearts and minds to embrace this, your new commandment of love. In your holy name we pray. Amen.