There is an extraordinary moment recorded in the Bible in John 13:1-17. It is just before the Passover Feast that would be known evermore as the Last Supper. Having spent the last three years with a select group of men whom He loved, Jesus is about to show them “the full extent of his love.”
John tells us that as the meal was being served, Jesus takes off His outer garment, grabs a towel and a bowl of water, and begins to go around the table washing the disciples feet. Usually a host merely provided water for visitors to wash their own feet. Perhaps in a well to do household, a servant might be tasked with handling a traveler’s nasty, dirty, usually ugly feet. So how does Jesus taking on this task demonstrate the full extent of his love?
Seems Peter had that very question. Initially he refuses to let Jesus touch him and the Lord simply tells Peter “you do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” So what was Jesus doing?
Put yourself at the table. Jesus comes to your feet. He pauses to look in your eyes and in that moment you know He knows all the dreadful, sinful things you have done and will do. He is perfect – you are tainted – and more than simply dirt on your toes. However, rather than be repulsed and disgusted, Jesus shifts His gaze from your eyes to the basin, stoops down and gently “washes away all the filth.” It is as if in that moment He is separating the “yuck” from “you.” Maybe this is why he told Peter “unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” (If Peter thought Jesus washing his feet was overwhelming, wait until he saw Jesus, the Master and Messiah, shredded and bleeding on a cross to “wash him clean.”)
This was a moment of incredible grace! But Jesus knew his disciples. When He had finished, He dressed again and asked one simple question: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” The test of understanding would be their willingness to “do as I have done for you.”
Sunday we celebrated the Lord’s Supper at Avalon Church in observance of the event that followed the washing of the disciples’ feet. One of our women prayed for the bread that represents His body as only a mother could, recalling that Mary held the vulnerable, fragile infant Jesus at his birth and 33 years later held His broken body at the Cross. It was the cost of being “the good news of great joy which shall be for all people.”
As I held up the cup of juice that represents the blood of Jesus, I quietly asked the congregation, “Do you understand what He has done for you?” I reminded my church family that the Lord asks us, also, to “do as I have done for you” – to love as He loved, to forgive as He forgave. Then, in the last moment before we drank the cup together, I suggested that if we still hold anger, bitterness and resentment in our hearts then we probably do not understand what He has done for us. Thankfully, Jesus extends grace to us and invites us to participate anyway.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” What an incredibly important question. The answer is more demonstrated than spoken.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)