“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” -Jesus (John 13:15)
Earlier that week the people cried out for Jesus to become their king. How easy it would have been for Jesus to seize the throne! Absolute authority was his for the taking.
To be sure, many wanted him dead. A plot to take his life had already been devised by the time Jesus sat down to have his last supper.
It was the season of Passover and Jesus’s last supper with his friends was a Passover meal. Before enjoying the meal together, they needed to wash up.
The friends of Jesus wondered when the time would come for them to ascend to power. When would the hour of greatness emerge, a new dawning of hope and deliverance? Jesus was the One they had been waiting for. The time was pregnant, the Moment at-hand.
But Jesus had another surprise in store for them. The king washed their feet.
What a backwards sort of kingdom this king was creating! The drama of the week was predicated on a great power struggle. Even as those in power felt their power threatened by the clamor of the crowd for a new king, Jesus responds not by laying hold of power but by relinquishing it. The very power struggle that would keep the plot moving forward is disrupted when the new king refuses to play their games.
He washed their feet.
The new kingdom is a foot-washing place, a kneeling place, a humble place. The new king leads by serving. The new king is the lowest servant.
The new king knows his feet will be the feet of his friends, so the new king puts his hands to work washing feet. These feet are ready now for exodus. They have passed through the water and they are prepared for a new set of commandments.
Jesus has just one commandment to give. It sounds old but Jesus adds a new part to it: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
The Hebrews were familiar with chiasmus; it’s the structure of leaving a place, arriving at a center point, and returning to where you began. Jesus’ new command has the structure of chiasmus. It begins and ends with a command they already know: “Love one another.”
But in the center of the new command was something they were still coming to know: “As I have loved you…”
That center part was new to them. Even though they had spent the past three years with Jesus, his friends still did not know the full extent of his love for them. They had no idea he was about to give up his very life for them, so he gave them a sign: he washed their feet.
Jesus’s new command is the only command they would need because their feet would become the work of his hands and their hands would carry on his work of washing many feet.
The friends of Jesus now have but one vocation: foot-washing. Jesus says so: “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you.”
A disciple’s job is not to posture for high position, as those in power often suppose. A disciple’s job is to take the lowest position, the kneeling position, the place of humility. The friend of Jesus is the servant to others. The world will know we are followers of Jesus by how we serve.
May we do as Jesus has done for us. May we be found at the intersection of loving one another, the crossing where Jesus reminds us of his love for us.
It is Maundy Thursday, the day of the last supper, and we have a new command. Having been freed, having passed through the water, let us walk in the light of his new command.