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John devotes four chapters to the final evening Jesus shared with his disciples, and these contain the heart of Jesus concern for his body, the church. The wisdom imparted during Jesus' final evening would be seared forever into the minds of his men. To begin, Jesus teaches them servanthood. Instead of teaching with words, Jesus models it. This poignant story is recorded in John 13:1-17.
The meal was already in progress and there had been no one humble enough to do footwashing duty. So Jesus did it himself, stooping down twelve times, painstakingly rinsing the travel dirt from between toes and then drying those calloused walking feet with a towel.
Simon Peter objected, appalled at the thought of his Lord and Master stooping to do such a thing to him. Understanding would come later, after the horrors of the next twenty-four hours were behind them all.
Jesus offered this humble gift to each one, then pulled his outer garments back on and returned to his place at the table. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one anothers feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:14).
In the hot and dusty climate of Palestine, footwashing was a sign of hospitality. It was the responsibility of the servants but sometimes, rarely, a host or loved one might take up this duty as a demonstration of deep love or extreme devotion.*
Deep love. Extreme devotion. Jesus poured these out on his disciples on this final evening. Then asked them to do the same after he was gone.
Footwashing is not mentioned again in the Bible and it doesnt appear in Early Church documents. It seems that the apostles understood Jesus' act as an example of servanthood rather than as a command to institute a new ordinance. The Lords Supper became a lasting ordinance from this evening together. Humility emerged as a lasting virtue. The disciples had a rough weekend ahead of them but they emerged from it as humble servants, ready to stoop at the feet of their brothers and sisters in Christ. After the Resurrection we see no more vying for position from the Twelve. No more demanding their rights. No more haste in pouring out rebuke.
Instead we see humility in their actions and in their teaching:
A footwashing service is a lovely ritual and is sometimes included as a part of Holy Week celebrations. But living in humility is the greater activity to which we are called as followers of Jesus Christ.
Reflection:Take a few moments to read John 13:1-17 and to reflect upon Jesus invitation to you as an individual and in community. Talk with Jesus about your experience in embodying humility or your lack thereof. Ask for Gods help in growing in this virtue and for insight into how you can model humility in your life as a member of Christs body.
* John C Thomas: Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community
Once Judas has fled the Upper Room, the plan for this final evening unfolds without delay. Even the pace of Jesus' teaching picks up. In just five short verses here is what he says:
The disciples don't ask, "Lord, how do we do that?" "We're not so great at loving each other, so would you tell us some more?" "Jesus, would you teach us how to love?" Peter does speak up and ask why they are being left behind (v.36, 37). More questions follow (recorded in chapter 14) but none of them relate to the charge Jesus has just given to them.
Did this 'loving one another thing' seem easy? Was the command perhaps blurred by the more urgent need to understand precisely what Jesus meant by all this talk about leaving? Was it simply beyond them to grasp the significance of what Jesus was asking them to do?
What is it that blurs our vision and keeps us from asking, "Lord, how do we do that?" "We're not so great at loving each other, so would you tell us some more?" "Jesus, would you teach us how to love?"
Jesus laid down his life out of love for others and calls us to follow in his steps.
Love communicates Jesus' message with power and clarity.
Lack of love blurs it.
Jesus answers the disciples' miscellaneous questions and then brings them back on track to the one main thing: "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15), and again, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching" (14:23). He goes on to promise God's own indwelling presence. The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, will be their teacher.
The Spirit is ever ready to teach us to love and to provide what we need to carry out Jesus' command.
But will we ask, "Jesus, would you teach us how to love?"
Reflection: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).
John chapter 17 holds Jesus' longest recorded prayer, and what an amazing prayer it is. He prays for himself, for his disciples, and then for all those who will believe in him through their message. That includes you and me.
2000 years ago, on his final evening, he had us on his heart. As you look at the portion of this prayer (below) notice how Jesus addresses unity. Notice the effect that unity will have on the world. Look also for the resources Jesus provides to enable the development of this important aspect of life in Christ.
I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (v. 21-23)
"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (v. 24-26)
Unity Envisioned Jesus' vision for our unity kind of blows me away. It is pretty hard to fathom that we, his church, would know complete and perfect unity, unity which is comparable to the oneness the Father and the Son experience. Jesus had a mighty big vision for his church!
Think about what he envisioned: his small band of followers would take the message of his life, death and resurrection to the world. Over the centuries its effect would multiply, so that people from every nation, tribe and tongue would believe. Countless people believing that Jesus was sent by the Father, believing that the Father loves them just as much as he loves the Son. All of this would flow out of the oneness and unity of the body of Christ. To facilitate this, Jesus has even given us a portion of his own glory (v. 21-23).
Glory made known Jesus prays into the future and sees people from every nation, tribe and tongue experiencing his glory, knowing the Father intimately, being filled with God's love and with God himself. Though we cannot know God on our own, Jesus' purpose--then and now--is to make the Father known to us so profoundly that love is planted in our hearts in the person of Christ himself (v.24-26).
Jesus' deep desire for his body on his final evening on earth is for:
Reflection: Consider these things, taking time to meditate upon them. What do these stir up in your heart? Pray for yourself, for your circle of influence, for your church and for the Church as a whole.
Lord, may we, your body, embody these qualities more and more as we are empowered by your grace. May we reflect what was on your heart in that final evening in earth. Amen
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