Hello, and welcome to the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of John with you this week.
This week we will be looking at materials from chapters 12, 13, and 14 of the Gospel according to John.
This section of the Gospel of John includes Jesus’ final public conversation (in chapter 12) and some of the last conversations he has with his closest disciples. These passages are filled with the ideas Jesus wants to ensure his closest followers understand before his death because they are the concepts on which God will build a movement of people following Jesus and seeking to complete his mission.
With the beginning of chapter 13, the Gospel of John now takes us literally inside Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Verse two tells us the evening meal is in progress. Since Jesus is not travelling with family, it is his inner circle of twelve followers who he eats with in this scene. It is not like Jesus to mince words in the Gospel of John in any scenario, but with this small group of trusted friends there is no reason at all for him to hide his innermost thoughts. Over the next few chapters, that is proven to be the case.
One of the most often observed differences between the Gospel of John and those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke is that John does not have a so-called Last Supper where Jesus conducts the first Holy Communion through the eating of bread and drinking of wine. Instead, John portrays Jesus washing the feet of his closest friends. There are many things that might be said about why feet washing was a sign of service in the ancient world, but I don’t have time to address them here because I want to focus on what Jesus wants to teach his disciples through the act, not why he chose it in particular.
Simon Peter – the follower Jesus would choose to lead the movement in his name after his death – clearly is uncomfortable with Jesus’ act of service. Despite his objections, Jesus finally completes the task. He asks, at this point, if these men understand what he has done for them. Peter’s behaviour makes it pretty clear they do not. The question is obviously rhetorical, for Jesus goes on to answer it. First, he reminds them that he is their leader and their teacher; according to outward appearances and to the way the world considers things, Jesus is superior to them. Second, Jesus says that what he has done is an example for them. An example that ‘no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.’
Jesus displays an important form of leadership here: he casts a vision for what he wants his team to do and he removes an obstacle that might keep them from accomplishing it. So what is Jesus’ vision and what is the obstacle?
Jesus’ vision, what he has been calling for since the beginning of his ministry, is to see people return to following God with all their heart, and soul, and strength. That faith is reflected in the way they love others – which we’ll explore in tomorrow’s passage. In God’s economy, the one who is rich and has resources is to use them to care for those who lack them; in God’s kingdom, the powerful – like Jesus – employ that power to make life better for the marginalized. This is the mission that Jesus will leave to his disciples.
What is the greatest obstacle to doing that? Thinking that one is too important to offer such service to another, especially another person who might be thought lower on the social ladder than you. Through his act of washing the feet of his disciples – even his friend who would hand him over to the authorities who will kill him – Jesus removes any argument for such pretension. By washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus seeks to clear away the obstacle of pride and self-importance that might prohibit his followers from carrying out this mission.
For those of us hearing this passage today, the question is where do we allow pride or self-importance to keep us from serving others in this way? Is it in our diary, which tells us we are too busy to do this sort of thing? Is it in our job title, which suggest that we might just get other people do it for us? Is it in our bank account? Of course it is good and right to give financial support to all sorts of groups serving people, but do we always give a few pounds to a good cause rather than engage in serving others directly?
I’ve been guilty of all of those things at one time or another. Perhaps you have too. There is forgiveness for that – and then, after we are right with God again, there is another opportunity to serve others in this way awaiting us. Let us ask ourselves today, where that opportunity is and respond knowing that we are not too important or too busy to take it.
King Jesus, thank you for your example that you, the most important person in history, were not too important to serve others. Grant us a heart and mind like yours that will motivate us to serve those around us. Amen.
READING: John 13:1-17
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’
Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’
‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’
Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’
‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’
Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
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.