Thursday, March 24, 2005

love one another

It is the festival of the Passover, and clearly Jesus is the passover lamb to be slaughtered. In verse one of John 13, we see that he loved the disciples in the world, and that he loved them to the end, or, as the NIV has it, to the "full extent". His sacrifice is an expression of his love. He loved the disciples fully, completely.

How did Jesus express this love? He loved them so much that he would get up from the meal, take off his outer robe, and tie a towel around himself. Then he would pour water into a basin and wash the disciples' feet. The master washes the feet of the servants. The washing of feet in the Mediterranean world was either for personal hygiene or as an act of hospitality. Since this is the Passover meal, the purpose seems to be hospitality. But usually the master would have a servant to wash the feet of the guests, or the guests would wash their own feet. Jesus, in washing the feet of the disciples, combines the roles of the servant and the host.

For this reason Peter protests: "Lord, you will never wash our feet". And Jesus responds: "unless I wash you, you have no share with me". Or, as the Message translates it, "if I don't wash you, you can't be a part of what I'm doing". This is the key to Maundy Thursday. The washing of the disciples' feet is the way that Jesus demonstrates his love for them. He empties himself for them. He becomes like them. He becomes a servant to them. In Philippians 2, Paul confesses that Jesus was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God as something to be exploited (TNIV: taken advantage of), and so he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Here Jesus is the host and master, but he does not claim status, he empties himself, takes the form of a servant through the washing of feet.

"If I do not wash your feet", Jesus says to us, "you have no share in me". To reject Jesus when he comes to wash our feet is to reject the intimate love that he, and only he, can give to us.

Receive it, Jesus says.
Receive me.
Then you will be cleansed.
The Greek word for cleansing, in John 13. 8 and 9 is the word kathoroi.
You will be purged, purified.
This is your catharsis.

We are cleansed, washed, cleaned. And then Jesus asks, "Do you know what I have done to you?" We know that something has happened. We are changed. And because the Lord, the Master, has been our servant, we are to serve one another, we are to wash one another's feet.

The action is interpreted in the teaching: I am giving you a new commandment. I have loved you; you should love one another. The act---the washing of feet---and the word come together to form a whole. This is what I have done for you, Jesus says.

The act of service, and the word about love, are set within a context of profound betrayal. Jesus is not in denial about this. But he stays at the table with the disciples. One will betray him. He says, "I love you". One will deny him. He says, "I will stay at the table with you". Love among the disciples is rooted in the reality that he first loved us, and gave himself for us. And in giving himself for us, he leaves an example: "Do you know what I have done to you?", he asks. "I have set an example for you....I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another". Why? "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another".


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7:06 PM  

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