Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. (St. John 13:8)
… But have a little sympathy for Peter: he’s only saying what you’d have said.
We in the South have a sense of propriety – how one is to address his elders; how one is to conduct herself in public. You and I have our rules for decorum when guests come to our homes. And it’s wise never to violate those rules, lest social wrath come down upon you.
You and I also have our self-made “rules” for relating to God and to one another. Relating to God, we think, is a matter of philosophical thought plus a little time on Sunday morning in prayer plus a few good deeds. Relating to one another is a matter of generally being pleasant in conversation and sometimes sharing a meal.
It’s clean and orderly, just the way Emily Post (and you) like it.
That’s why Maundy Thursday is so upsetting to you. Jesus isn’t concerned about the “prim and proper” way of doing things; he’s concerned about the right, the Godly, way of doing things.
You and I cherish the idea of relating to God and to one another; people throughout the world think they know how to relate to God and to one another. We show up at church, and we show up at each other’s homes – but we leave out the critical element that makes such fellowship possible: the cleansing blood of Christ.
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are, honestly, upsetting. They’re messy and ugly. But without the upsetting work of Jesus at the cross – without his blood washing you clean of sin and changing you forever – you cannot relate to God or to the person beside you.
Without Jesus’ blood washing you clean, first, you cannot know the God who made you.
Now this truth runs counter to most people’s hopes and expectations. You and I would much rather “find God” through philosophical ramblings or nice deeds or our own religious inventions than we would find Him through the cross. The cross is messy; it’s humiliating both for Christ and for us. So you, along with Peter, blurt out that you don’t want Jesus washing your feet.
Back in Peter’s era, a person might bathe from head to toe, but the dusty roads and travel by foot made a person’s feet filthy. It was polite, then, to have a servant wash the feet of one’s guests. Not only was this an undesirable task, it was the task of a slave.
Imagine Peter’s shock and confusion when Jesus girded himself as would a slave and began to wash Peter’s feet! “No way, Lord! YOU want to wash MY feet? What’s going on here?! I won’t have this – ever!”
For you of the Emily Post crowd, here is a rough modern equivalent: imagine having dinner in your home with the president – and then imagine HIM scraping off the dishes after supper and helping you take out the trash. The local emergency-response unit probably would have to be on hand to shock you back!
Yet that’s what happened that Maundy Thursday evening. Jesus – God! – humbled himself as a glimpse of the unthinkable humiliation he willingly would endure the next day.
It’s not “proper,” is it? You and I want a God who can be found through reasoning, not met through a cross. We want a celestial Creator enthroned on high – not a Lord who enters into our rubble and does the dirty work of healing.
Jesus’ words remain, however: you and I can have no part of him and of his glory unless we see him suffering for us and washing us. Unless God’s humiliation becomes our salvation, you and I don’t know Him.
Second, unless the blood of Christ cleanses you from your sin, you can have no fellowship with the person beside you.
In this text Jesus gives a “new commandment,” the Latin term for which supplies us with the word “Maundy”: he says we are to love one another so that the world will know we are his. Part of loving one another as followers of Christ is to wash each other’s feet – not literally but figuratively. We’re to enter into each other’s struggles and serve however we can, even if it means doing an “untidy” task.
In verse three, St. John says Jesus knew all things had been delivered into his hands. Jesus knew what the disciples and you and I don’t naturally know: only his blood can change a prideful, selfish heart and make genuine love possible.
There’s a lot of talk in the liberal church, and in the non-Christian world, about being kind to one another. Typically these folks toss a person into a project for the needy and say, “Get to it. Give. You’ll feel better.”
Humans, however, don’t like to give. And if we do give – our money, our time, our energy – we often do so for selfish motives, such as “feeling good about ourselves.”
Real love, the sort of love that cares intimately about a hurting person down the pew, isn’t natural for you and me. What love we do express rarely extends beyond immediate family and friends.
Jesus is talking about foot-washing love. It’s not drop-fifty-bucks-in-the-plate love. It’s not food-for-the-poor-at-Thanksgiving love.
It’s love that listens night after night to a person’s grief. It’s love that helps clean an elderly person’s home and takes that person to church – or takes church to that person. It’s love that makes another person’s struggles your very own.
With his sacrifice for your sins on Good Friday, Jesus not only set the example of that sort of God-honoring, spiritual health-bringing love – he alone made it possible.
This evening, when you drink the spiritual blood of Christ, remember its power when received by faith. By his sacrifice – his humiliation – you are made clean; the water and the blood ultimately symbolize the same thing: Jesus’ blood shed for you.
When you are washed by Jesus’ blood, God no longer looks at you and sees your failures and guilt.
He sees His beloved child.
Now look to your right and to your left at those who, like you, are washed in Jesus’ blood. See what you could not see otherwise: your beloved brother and sister, ready to be served.