Reading John 13
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, 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 round 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 round 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 realise 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, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their 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 Very truly I tell you, 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.
Augustine tells us how voraciously he read books inspired by the Holy Spirit. Everything that had at first seemed convoluted and at times self-contradictory now appeared amazingly simple and soothing for his restless soul. He saw how reading the Bible lead him straight to its principal Author, who releases the broken reader from death and gives him true happiness. Christ liberates man from the sentence that was passed on him at the very beginning of his existence.
"What is a human wretch to do? Who will free him from this death-laden body, if not your grace, given through Jesus Christ our Lord, whom you have begotten coeternal with yourself and created at the beginning of all your works? In him the ruler of this world found nothing that deserved death, yet slew him all the same; and so the record of debt that stood against us was annulled. None of this is to be found in those other books. Not in those pages are traced the lineaments of such loving-kindness, or the tears of confession, or the sacrifice of an anguished spirit offered to you from a contrite and humbled heart, or the salvation of a people, or a city chosen to be your bride or the pledge of the Holy Spirit, or the cup of our ransom. Not there is anyone heart to sing, Shall not my soul surrender itself to God? For my salvation comes from him. He is my very God, my Saviour."
Our Lord proceeds to wash his disciples’ feet in the manner of a servant. He does it calmly, gracefully, and with dignity. There is no rush, every gesture carries meaning, and the atmosphere in the room is truly special. Yet just as Augustine could not understand the Scriptures for years, and this feet washing gesture of God might be surprising and hard to comprehend for us as well. We can only hope to one day understand more. Let us accept Jesus’ service with trust and gratitude. Sometimes we may think that everything must be understood and explained, but our God, fortunately, does not have to abide by the rules of human logic.
Lord, help us look at the world – and especially our lives and your goodness towards us – in a different way, so that we may see and understand the great work done by you two thousand years ago. Amen.