Just as Jesus loves us, so we love; just as Jesus acts, so we are called to act
May 13, 2017
An exploration of John 13
By Rev. John W. Nupp
We give thanks for the beautiful bounty of life in nature – the birds that wake us in the morning or those furry friends who greet us when we come home from work. But not many of us rejoice at cleaning those car windows after the songbirds have flown away. And it is challenging at best to find a worshipful way to empty that litter box or clean up after Cleo. Everyone loves the circus, but no one wants to sweep up after the elephants!
As we prepare ourselves for ministry together as an Annual Conference, we have some difficult work to do. This Baptismal covenant binds us together as one, begins with a difficult call. Trace these waters swirling around the feet of John the Baptizer and his followers as they leave the River Jordan to follow Jesus. Taste the stagnant water transformed by this same Jesus into wedding wine. Be transformed like the Samaritan woman who found life at Jacob’s well; be touched like the blind man who found his sight by the Pool of Siloam. Jesus marks them with signs of life – Miracles of transformation, Overflowing grace, the gift of Sight as they come to see Jesus and come to know that he sees them. Through their stories, we are invited to come alive. No longer simply spectators, Jesus calls us to Action. We begin with the action of Intake, taking in that which bring sustains us for the journey with Jesus. But for life to be sustained, difficult decisions remain.
As the narrative turns from these living Parables to the Passion of the Christ, the Storyteller challenges us to watch closely as Jesus takes up water yet again. What happens in John chapter 13 is one of the most precious parables of this fourth gospel – Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. They have crossed many miles, walked through dusty streets and yes, through a fair share of country pastures. Like it or not, their feet need to be washed. John’s Gospel does not record Jesus’ teaching so much as Jesus’ living. So be warned: Jesus does not simply want to teach us, but to transform us.
Jesus knows that all things have been entrusted to him by God, and from this tremendous knowledge, this tremendous position of strength, does he call for one of the nearby servants to wash his own feet? No. From this position of strength, he humbles himself! Jesus knows that his time is short. He becomes intent, therefore, on showing the full extent of his love to the very end. Jesus, Son of God, Lamb-who-takes-away-the sin-of-the-World, reaches down and starts cleansing the feet of his followers. In spite of argumentative Peter, in the face of zealous Judas, he washes off the dirt and scrubs away the crap and keeps on washing them until the job is done, until it is finished.
Without cleansing, there can be no life. As Jesus warns Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me,” (John 13:8b NRSV.) This reliance on Jesus cannot be overstated. We must allow Jesus to cleanse us. Before rushing ahead to the next step of service, stop again by the waters of your baptism. Remember that you did not baptize yourself. Someone else brought you, perhaps carried you even in their arms, to the font. Let yourself be loved by God, allow God’s grace to surround you and define you. This is the touchstone, the starting point of all life.
There are not many songs written for foot-washing. But Missionary Tom Colvin’s “Jesu, Jesu” makes for a wonderful exception, drawn from his years serving with the people of Ghana and Malawi. The song reminds us that just as Jesus loves us, so we love, just as Jesus acts, so we are called to act. We bear witness to this work of Jesus by carrying it on in our own lives, but never in our own strength. It is the love of Jesus that fills us, that puts us on our knees. It is that same love that keeps us going, moving us to show what we know as we join Jesus in sacrificial acts of service.
So let’s offer a shout out to those parents who persevere through gas station bathrooms, making the most of that last baby wipe. Say thanks to those nurses’ aides who pull double-shifts on half the salary of their peers, keeping the sheets clean for that patient in the next bed. Say a prayer for those siblings of adults with special needs and for those caregivers of spouses with memory loss, who know that washing feet is only the beginning. Through their witness, we come to learn something of the Savior who loves us enough, not just to wash our feet, but to go on loving us through the Garden and through the Cross, each and every day for all eternity.
We are learning to love others, even and especially those who make a mess of things. This is how we were when Jesus found us, and, so often, where we are when Jesus finds us today. We still stand in need of Cleansing, like it or not. And, like it or not, there are many, many others just like us who have joined the parade of grace. It is our calling and our privilege to extend to them the very same grace we ourselves have come to know in Jesus Christ, our Servant Savior.