Stoop So Low

During my current study of the Gospel of John, attention has been brought to the situation at the Last Supper where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.

Being mindful that the author was retelling these stories some 40-50 years after the fact, and that he provides the special privilege of seeing and explaining to us both the practical and the spiritual implications of this and other events to which he testifies.

We’ve undoubtedly heard this event woven into at least one pastoral message at some point. But I’d like to share a couple of details that may have gone a little below the radar.

In John 13:1, the author precludes the description of this event with a statement that “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” This sets the stage for what happens next, indicating that what follows is directly related to Jesus’ preparation for the cross.

First of all, we can easily understand that the act of washing an other’s feet is an expression of humility—that one must take a humble position to perform this task for another. But in examining the culture of that time, we must understand that the washing of a guest’s feet was a common, everyday act. In a lower-income household, guests would typically wash their own feet with a basin of water provided them by the household—the host would not stoop so low as to perform this task on another of equal, lesser, or even greater social status.

And in households where servants and slaves may be present, foot washing would be provided to guests, performed not by the servants, but by the slaves. Such an act was so far beneath even a simple servant, that this task was relegated to the lowliest slaves. It would be absurd for someone to even consider performing this act for another, regardless of their station.

So, beyond just the humility—considering others greater than yourself (not thinking less of yourself)—that Jesus displays in this foot washing of his friends; his students—we should recognize this act as more clearly a “humiliation.” Jesus, through this demonstration, shows us his willingness to suffer humiliation so that we can be greater.

Jesus [said], “You do not realize 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.” John 13:7-8

So, with this, Jesus explains two different but parallel themes. Firstly, if Jesus could move to the position/status of a slave—the lowest rung of the ladder—then we, as his followers, must likewise be willing to get dirty. We must allow ourselves to be humiliated for one another’s sake, and not set ourselves above one another. (May I mention that Jesus even washed Judas’ feet at a point where Jesus already knew that he was going to betray him?)

Secondly, Jesus was speaking about his coming suffering and death, and that unless we allow him to wash us with his blood, we can have no part in him. But in the same way, this means that we have to allow his blood to splash on us—to be poured on us; and anoint us.

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4

So now I ask you, would you stoop so low? Is there anyone who is “untouchable” to you? Is there anyone close to you whom you would not humiliate yourself for? Is there anyone whose feet you would not wash?

When I get to Heaven, I hope to be ushered into the King’s court at some point, where I would expect to find the Throne of God to be set in a large room that sits lower than the rest of the surrounding hall, so that all who would approach the King must come “down” to him. He has clearly demonstrated that he wants to be approached, so he positions himself accordingly.

Where have you set your throne?

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