(This is a post on John 13 v 1 - 17)
This is a phrase I’ve heard so many times but has never properly sunk in until now. I was reading the passage in John about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the Holy Spirit suddenly approached me through the word. I could see the image so clearly in my minds-eye.
It was Jesus, God incarnate, kneeling before his beloved followers, the towel wrapped around his waist, the basin full, his hands rubbing clean their dusty feet… I felt so touched by it, so amazed. I knew I was feeling the Spirit within me, prising open the eyes of my heart to look at the gospel anew, kindling the first tingle of that divine fellowship.
Jesus knew it was his time to leave the world and go back to his father. Knowing this, the passage says that He wanted to show his disciples ‘the full extent of his love’ (v1).
Wait a second.
The God of the universe, the all powerful, all knowing, good and eternal Father wants to show us the full extent of his love?! Wow. That made me sit up and listen. With a heart full of anticipation I read carefully through the next few verses, my eyes wide, ready to absorb every word.
What was it then? What was this ‘full extent of his love’? Answer: He washed their feet.
He washed their feet.
The humble spectacle of him kneeling in the dust at his creations’ feet and gently washing them clean of dirt, with the tenderness of a mother to her newborn, initially struck me with surprise. Yet, right after that, it made perfect sense. Although it seems small, it is in reality a reflection of the most wonderful, gigantic and costly act of love ever seen: His sacrifice. (1 John 3 v 16) Jesus was showing us how he was willing to go to where the problem was in order to wash it away. The perfect and pure God was willing to enter into death so that he could suck out the poison which has inverted our souls.
And not only was He illustrating what He had come to do, He was also giving us a message. The Word was communicating with us. Telling us, through his own example, the secret of life: servitude.
You see, great love is loving others. Great love overflows, it’s always outgoing, outward looking, self-forgetful, self-sacrificial…it’s like a fountain. On the top level is God, the second is Jesus, the third is you and the fourth is anyone around you. It’s natural that the water just spills over and over and over: a continual, ever-flowing movement: ‘They drink their fill in the abundance of Your house, and You give them to drink of the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light’ (Psalm 36 v 8-9). And completely unnatural in reverse; you can’t try to love when the motivation comes from your own self, it needs to come as a response to the love shown to you.
Our salvation was patiently showing us, in the act of washing His disciples feet, that the true secret to life lies in looking outward, not inward. It lies in rebelling against the pull of our fallen heart and forgetting ourselves. You see, this image also tells us something more. That Christ did not just come to wash clean our slate, he wasn’t the steward giving us the key to a paradise. He is the paradise. He came to include us in a perfect relationship between himself, the Spirit and the Father, to share in the joy of outward living. The way how? To love. First God and then our neighbour (Mark 12 v 30 - 31).
A nice literary point (excuse the English student here) is this: a clue that God truly wants relationship is also seen through the physical act itself. He gets down on his knees and washes our feet. He makes contact with us, he connects. This God loves us.
And unless we accept this love and allow the God of the universe to wash our souls by kneeling in front of our feet which are dangling in the grave; by dying for us, then we can have ‘no part’ (v 8) with him. We won’t be able to enjoy a divine fellowship with this perfectly loving God.
As receivers of this incredible love, Jesus tells us that the correct response is to continue this outward movement of love: ‘I have set an example before you that you should do as I have done for you’ (v 15) The natural response from being loved properly is to go and love properly someone else. That is a taste of the fellowship of God. We should ‘wash one another’s feet’ (v 15). That means doing as Jesus did and being willing to go to the grave for our fellow man, and not just other devoted followers of Christ or even just like-minded, hard-working and good-willing neighbours, but also the ones who spit on Him, the ones who mock and curse Him. The ones we find really difficult, the ones who ignore us, the ones who actively go against us. Because when Jesus was taking our punishment on the cross he pleaded forgiveness for all people below Him (Luke 23 v 34): murderers, traitors and followers alike.
Love is an overflow. It’s the same reason I’m writing these words, as an overflow of my cup (Psalm 23 v 5). An overflow from what gems I discovered this morning. A movement.