A Meal Interrupted
The table was set. Small, earthen cups of wine poured. The roasted lamb nearby. Unleavened bread stacked in front of each disciple.
They were about to begin the Passover when Jesus interrupts the meal’s normal rhythm. He removes His “outer garments” and stoops over each disciple’s dusty feet to wash them. They were dumbfounded!
After washing their feet, Jesus returns to His seat and explains what had just happened:
“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.
Why here? Why now?
The Biblical authors give us some context: “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” (John 13:1).
But, the writer also adds a startling detail. Jesus knew who His betrayer would be. He knew Judas, though a devout carrier of their moneybag, was deceitful and had given his heart over to satan. And Jesus knew His time had come to go to the cross.
Though impossible, imagine yourself in the sandals of Christ. The stress and anguish of knowing your betrayal and death loom around the corner. How would you spend the final hours of your life?
Jesus chose to love. To model humility. He didn’t lift up anger or wish vengeance (though He could have rightfully done so).
Rather, he laid down His whole self.
The Challenge of the King
This scene is easy to romanticize. Some churches act out foot washings as a sign of love — it absolutely is (I mean, I’m not super keen about washing someone’s foot). Jesus, though, wasn’t mandating foot washings here. He modeled how to love.
Earlier in the story, the disciples had bickered about who would be “the greatest in the Kingdom” and who would sit at Jesus’s right-hand (seriously!). This moment of humility was Jesus's final punctuation mark on pride and self-elevation.
He ends with a challenge to His disciples and to you:
"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
John 13:15 (NIV)
Jesus wants His followers to live like Him. To serve others like Him.
And this challenge to love with humble hearts stands in such contrast to the horrible events which happened over the weekend in Buffalo, where an 18 year-old committed a racist hate crime by gunning down over a dozen people, ten of whom were Black. His written plans confirmed he believes in a “Great Replacement,” an age-old conspiracy theory propagated by white supremacists. It’s horrible and is deeply connected to the racist roots in our country (for a historian’s explanation of this, go here).
How does this all connect?
"Jesus chose to love. To model humility."
Sadly, racism and white Christianity have held hands for far too long in our nation (see here, here, and here). The day after the shooting, I saw white people emotionally defending the actions of a murderer and arguing against the feelings of Black people mourning in a nation violent against themselves.
How can this be?
Love in the Face of Violence
Jesus, fully aware of the violence ahead Him, led with love and humility. There’s in no way I could ever imagine our King supporting, tampering with, or even slightly entertaining the connections white Christianity has with racism.
I share all this because the heart of our King is on the side of love.
And so should yours.
You have the opportunity to do what is right and speak out against white supremacy in all of its forms. It’s the least you can do as a servant of the King who washed our feet.
If you see Black people mourning right now and looking for a listening ear, empathizing from the heart is the only response.
If you see others mistreating Black people, you have the opportunity to stand in the gap and stop evil.
If you hear others supporting "sources" which promote horrible conspiracy theories which lead to violence, you have an obligation to truth, justice, and love.
Will it mean you’re ridiculed by others? Maybe.
But in the end, your Lord loved in the face of violence.
🔥 Bonus Sauce!
More on Jesus's challenge to love:
For opportunities to help the community in Buffalo affected by the mass-shooting: