Jesus Welcomes - He Washes our Feet

A Palm Sunday Reflection
John 13:1-21

(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg


    Palm Sunday Children’s message
  Recently, we saw the queen come to our country and even in the rain, people roled out a red carpet for her to walk on.  Why would we do something so strange?  (Allow children to volunteer answers)  Because it honours the one arriving..  The same is true of Palm branches.  They were a sign of victory, a welcome of a king.  It was their red carpet (though they did not have red carpets).  In Europe where the weather was much colder and they did not have palm branches, they used pussy willows or lilac branches just in bud,  both symbolizing that from a dead piece of wood could come new life - just like from the cross, which is a dead piece of wood, but from it new life would come for us.

John 13
13    It 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.  a
 2  The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.   3  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;   4  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.   5  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
 6  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
 7  Jesus 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!”
 10  Jesus 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.”   11  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
 12  When 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.   14  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.   15  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.   16  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.   17  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Jesus Predicts His Betrayal
 18  “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’  a
 19  “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.   20  I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
 21  After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

Joe was a man of the street.  I met him on one Friday night in the dead of winter, he asked me if I could give him a lift home.  He spent his nights in 20 below Celcius temperatures under the 109th street bridge in Edmonton.  When he asked me for the lift, I said yes, no problem.  Eric was with me, it would be safe enough.  I had said yes without realizing something.  Eric got in the back seat, I opened the door for Joe, and went around to the other side to drive.  When I entered, I noticed Eric had the back window open.  It only took a few seconds to realize why.  Joe had a very significant odor problem, the kind of problem that develops when a person has not had a bath for months, more probably years.  When we finally dropped Joe off, Eric refused to sit in the front where Joe had been, for fear the odor was contagious.  Eric even suggested my yellow Volvo had been permanently defiled and questioned why I had offered him a ride to his home under the bridge in the first place.  I’m thankful that I am olfactory challenged, my sense of smell is not near as acute as some others are.  My disability gave me the privilege of welcoming Joe.

Another story
It was a Saturday.  For years, I have helped ends meet by repairing my own cars, getting myself covered in grease and dirt in the process.  This was one of those Saturday mornings in Belleville, Ontario.  I was in the middle of car repairs and Judy called from in the house if I could go to the store and pick up an ingredient for something she was baking.  With the car up on jacks, the only way I could go was on bike.  So from the middle of my project I went to the grocery store, grease up to my elbows, in shorts and a t-shirt covered in grease that had shrunk in the dryer, way to small, the lower part of my ab (singular) showing.  I ran into the store, picked up the item Judy needed, was in the process of walking through the produce department on the way to the cashier and I heard my name called out.  Sure enough, it was two elderly ladies from the congregation I was serving looking with curiosity and consternation at the grease, the filth, and the exposed ab that the next day they would have to call a “youth pastor.”  In that moment, I felt very unwelcome. I felt a sense of shame.  I suddenly recognized how inappropriately I was dressed for a visit to the grocery store and then to be caught in the act by individuals who had certain high expectations of a pastor...  If only I had scrubbed and changed.

Cleanliness - we all recognize it is a part of health, and we all recognize that cleanliness is a foundational expectation in hospitality.  Cleanliness was a foundational expectation in this passage which we read also.  But even as I am going to be spending most of my message this morning talking about cleanliness, I would like you to notice that the passage is not first of all about cleanliness - it is first of all about Jesus.  The first verses of this passage make it clear.  This is the beginning of the 2nd half of John’s Gospel.  Whereas the first half was the book of signs - 7 signs each pointing out that Jesus was the promised Messiah, this is the 2nd half, the book of Glory.   Jesus in this part of John reveals his glory - and the way that John pictures the glory of Jesus is that he loves us so much that he would lay down his life for us.  This passage is about Jesus laying down his life for us.  This section of the book reaches its glorious crescendo in  the crucifixion, when the son of God is lifted up, drawing all people to himself.  This passage is all about Jesus - but it is also secondly all about cleanliness. 

There are two themes that I would like to address in this passage - the first one arises from verse 8.  Before the meal, Jesus as the host got up, wrapped a towel around himself and began to wash the disciples feet.  Peter, realizing how upsidedown this dynamic was questioned what Jesus was doing.  Peter had come to understand by revelation that this Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  How could the Son of God, Lord over all, the one for whom they would sing “Hosanna, blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” be taking the place of a servant?  And so he insisted that these actions were inappropriate.  The Lord should never wash his feet.   Jesus says in response: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  In response, Peter, not understanding that Jesus was referring to something Peter would only understand later, wanted Jesus to give him a sponge bath.  Only later would Peter understand that Jesus was referring to the washing that comes by the power of the Word to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus through his crucifixion.

Jesus said to Peter, and he says to us... “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”   That phrase “you have no part with me” may sound a bit confusing.  Jesus is saying that we must be washed if we are going to share in his eternal inheritance, if we are going to share in eternal life.  The part that Jesus is referring to is a part of the inheritance of the kingdom.  But simple washing is not good enough.  Jesus says, “Unless I wash you.”  To anyone who claims that they are good people and therefore God should accept them, this phrase stands as a blunt confrontation.  No matter how clean we keep ourselves, no matter how good we are, we will not share in Christ’s kingdom unless Jesus washes us.  This passage is not about keeping clean, this passage is about Jesus, and his power to make us acceptably clean, clean so that we can be welcomed to the banqueting table of the eternal kingdom.  Let all who dare boast in their own goodness count their boast as filthy rags, their boasts do nothing compared to the power of Christ to make us acceptable to God.  Christianity is not about being a good person, it is about Christ and his power to make us thoroughly clean good persons.
“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

What a wonderful experience it is to be washed clean by Christ.  I remember Helen well.  A young attractive girl from a Christian family but a rebel.  She was a faithful participant in the church until she got herself into a relationship with a young man.  She attended less often.  It didn’t take long before she did not come to worship any more.  She was pregnant.  Deep down, she knew she had disobeyed what she knew was right, and the sense of shame, the sense of defilement kept her from coming into the presence of God in worship.  It wasn’t the people who were shaming her.  They loved her.  They welcomed her.  None of them knew she was pregnant.  But God saw.  So she stayed away.  Until one day, she went to another person and cried out to God to be washed clean.  The result was beautiful.  Guilt was washed away.  Shame was healed by God’s welcome.  Helen once a rebel returned to the Lord and to the family of God and discovered that in the presence of God’s people is the safest place to be when you are in trouble.  And the church community is the most wonderful family in which a single mother can raise a child. 

Peter wanted to be washed again, completely clean.  In response to Peter’s desire for a complete sponge bath, Jesus answers “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.”

In that culture streets were often places where dirt was mixed with manure from animals.  To say the least, feet quickly became dirty and smelly with the kind of aroma’s that could turn any meal to something that was lest than tasty.  So a major part of the expectation of a guest, an expectation for hospitality was to make sure, even though you have bathed before you came, that before you came to the table and stretched out your feet for all to smell, that they too were clean.  A gracious host who honored his guests would provide a servant to clean the feet of those who came to a meal.  He would provide what they needed in order for them to meet the expectations of hospitality.

These dynamics are spiritually true for us too.  Even though we have been washed clean by Christ, the dynamics and journeys of life make us dirty again.
We walk through gossip, and the crap sticks to our feet, it seems too often we carry it home or we spread it around and infect relationships with its poison.
We walk into places where my eyes fall on pornography, the lust of the eyes, it looks so good, the lust of the eyes, the power of commercials.
We run away from debts we owe, quick to flee honesty in financial dealings.
We walk into conversations where foul language peppers the air and in no time, in an unguarded moment, we discover that the same foulness perverts our own speech.
We all need to be accepted, welcomed, loved.  But we quickly run to friends whose acceptance comes only with our compromise to their behaviors.  We call it peer pressure. 
Where we walk sticks with us, shames us, a dirt that defiles, an awareness deep down inside that there is something wrong, we like to blame others, but the truth is - we know its us.
Before we come to God, before we come to dine with Christ on resurrection morning, we need to wash our feet, clean them from the places we have trod.

“A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.”
Notice that Jesus cleans us.  It is Jesus who does the work of preparing us to be guests at God’s table.  Jesus knowing where he had come from, and knowing where he was going, took the towel and washed the disciples feet, acting as a gracious host who made sure they fulfilled the expectations of hospitality.  Jesus washes us, so that we too might be welcomed into the heavenly banquet.  He washes our feet, makes us clean and ready.  Jesus welcomes.  This passage, before anything else is all about Jesus.

Now if Jesus gives that kind of gracious hospitality, he says to his disciples - 14  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.   15  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

In the same way he calls us to serve our neighbors, leading them to the washing of Christ, serving them so that they may experience the welcome of God, serving them so that they may enter into God’s presence, without shame, without stain.  Welcome one another, as God in Christ welcomed you.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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