1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
31… Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
American writer Garrison Keillor tells the story of his uncle who, at annual family gatherings during Holy Week, would read the story of the passion and death of Jesus. And each year, when he came to the verses describing Jesus’ betrayal, he would burst into tears. The family would sit awkwardly until the man was able to continue the reading. Keillor commented that his uncle took the death of his Lord “so personally.” He’d pause in his story, then add: “The rest of the church had gotten over that years ago.” *
We live in an age of personal space. We value being able to do what we choose – and we celebrate those people who fought for us to have the right to make choices for ourselves.
The difficulty with Maundy Thursday is that there is no choice. Jesus does what he does – wrapping himself in a towel and washing his friends feet – without asking permission! He just does it.
Sometime, you see, Jesus doesn’t give you an option: he gets personal very quickly. Very personal.
The only person who washes my feet is me. I’m a bit like Peter in this story – I don’t need my feet washed. I suspect some of you are like as well: letting someone else near our feet is to risk being tickled … certainly to risk being touched.
But then we are confronted with a Jesus who says then I have no part with him if I refuse. What does that mean? Why is a refusal to have my feet washed a resignation from the Jesus family?
Maybe because it is a sign that we have built up barriers. Labi Siffre’s song Something Inside (So strong) includes the line “you hide behind walls of Jericho” – a recognition that too often we protect ourselves from everything. (Incidentally, that song features tomorrow morning in our Good Friday reflection).
Perhaps we need to understand that we have to allow Jesus to get personal with us. If we don’t allow him to come to us and do what he has to do then are we risking cutting ourselves out of his people? That’s certainly what he seems to suggest to Peter because, once he has ministered to the disciples, he goes back to his seat, looks at them and says: “now do the same”.
So which is the test of discipleship: letting Jesus get close enough to be personal with us; allowing our real selves to be touched by him; doing the same? Probably all of them.
* Story taken from The Witness magazine website http://www.thewitness.org/