Do You Know What I Have Done For You? – John 13.1-35

April 17, 2014 – Maundy Thursday

A reminder that in John’s gospel, Jesus calls God “Father.” He doesn’t use it as a title of patriarchal domination. In the crafting of John’s gospel, “Father” highlights “the theological possibilities of intimacy and love that rest at the heart of God.”[1] It’s the relationship between a beloved child and a beloved parent. Intimacy and love between God and Jesus and the disciples is at the heart of tonight’s gospel reading. So I invite you to hear this name for God as it is intended: a term of intimacy and love.

READ John 13.1-35

Do you know / what I have done for you? Jesus asks.

In John’s gospel, Jesus knows a lot.   Jesus knew that his hour had come. Jesus knew that God had given all things into his hands. Jesus knew who would betray him.

John has the highest Christology of the four gospels. That is, in John, it is clear that Jesus comes from God and is with God from the very beginning of time. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” begins John’s gospel and that Word became flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The other three gospels begin with the story of Jesus of Nazareth and move toward the end of the story to the mystery of the incarnation and Christ’s divinity.

But in John’s gospel, Jesus “was fully aware of his origin in glory…; he was also aware that he was now returning to that eternal glory in God’s presence; and he was further aware that while on earth, all authority from God was his.”

In other words, as teacher and preacher Fred Craddock says, the writer of John’s gospel “turns up the lights to their brightest, all focused on Jesus in the sweeping affirmation: from God, to God, possessing all knowledge and power. In that dazzling moment what will [Jesus] say? Will he command his followers to bow down in worship before him? What will he do? Will he ascend in a cloud out of their sight”[2] escaping the trouble ahead? No. John tells us. He got up from the table, replaced his robe with a towel, poured water in a basin, washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with the towel around his waist.

The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Philippi:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross. [Phil 2.6-8]

Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus asks.

What he has done unnerves Peter. (Probably the rest of the disciples too–although Peter is the disciple who gets to carry the burden of not understanding and protesting what Jesus does.)

Their Teacher should not be stooping down at their feet doing the task of the servant of the house. “You will never wash my feet” Peter says. In other words, “Get up, Jesus! What you are doing demeans you. This is not proper for you to do.”

“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” Jesus responds. “Then wash everything” Peter cries. “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand” Jesus says.

Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is not about being clean. It’s “about entering into relationship with Jesus by receiving his gesture of [love.]”[3] “By washing his disciples’ feet” says John scholar, Gail O’Day, “Jesus enters into an intimate relationship with the disciples that mirrors the intimacy of his relationship with God[: the beloved parent and the beloved child]. It is an intimacy that [unnerves] Peter, because it overturns all his…assumptions [about] roles and propriety. Yet it is only by accepting Jesus in the surprising role of …intimate servant that one receives the love of God incarnate…[Jesus] asks that [the disciples] enter into relationship with him on his terms, that they allow their relationship with him to be defined by God’s love and God’s love alone. They are to allow Jesus to lead them in love, much like the image of the good shepherd [who leads the sheep]. The foot washing removes the possibility of distance between Jesus and his followers, and brings them face to face with the love of God for them. Peter’s initial responses and the mention of Judas’ betrayal make clear that accepting this gesture of love…is indeed a challenge for those who follow Jesus.”[4] Not just then, but even now.

Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus asks.

I once heard a spiritual director suggest to a directee, “Invite God to be with you in whatever way God wants to be with you.” It’s that last phrase that gets us: “in whatever way God wants to be with you.” Peter wants Jesus to be with him in the way he expects and is used to: where teachers do not kneel on the ground and wash the feet of their students. Like most of us, Peter wants Jesus to be with him in the way he wants Jesus to be with him: in predictable, ordered, understandable ways. No curve balls, no surprises. If the truth were known, we might really prefer re-arranging the image of shepherd and sheep. How many of us would prefer to be the shepherd and have Jesus be the sheep close at our side instead of the other way around?

Do you know what I have done for you? Jesus asks us.

Author Kathleen Norris tells about talking with a monk friend. She confessed she had a hard time figuring out Jesus, especially the notion of incarnation. The monk reassured her, “Oh, most of us feel that way at one time or another. Jesus is the hardest part of the religion to grasp.”[5]

Do you know what I have done for you?

Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment. “Love one another as I have loved you.” But that’s not really new. The commandment to love is at the heart of the Hebrew scripture that Jesus would have known by heart. But perhaps the part “as I have loved you” is new. In John’s gospel, what Jesus does, is what God does. Back in John 3.16 we heard, “God so loved the world, that God gave the beloved Son.” The love Jesus offers to the disciples is the love God offers the world. Love that is not so much a feeling but a way of being in the world and with one another.

Do you know what I have done for you?

“The ‘saving’ work of Christ, what Jesus has done and does for us always, is not just about the cross. It is about the birth and the baptism, the teaching and the healing, the body and the blood, the basin and the towel, the life and the death”[6] and the resurrection.

When Jesus “got up” from the table–that word is literally “arose”–the same word that is used to describe Jesus’ resurrection. Pastor Bill Brosend says, “This getting up from the table, taking basin and towel, was not an act of weakness, but an act of powerful and empowering service, on the night of the betrayal [no less], nothing less than a foretaste of the resurrection….[even] as the bread and wine are a taste of heaven.”[7]

The posture of serving is not just to serve others but to be brought closer together in love. “To love one another as Jesus loves us is to live a life thoroughly shaped by a love that…opens up the possibility of relationship with God and Jesus and community with one another, but it is not an easy”[8] life.

* * *

[1] Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John” The New Interpreters Bible, Vol IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 496.
[2] Fred B. Craddock, John, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 101.
[3] O’Day, 724.
[4] Ibid., 727.
[5] Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace – A Vocabulary of Faith, (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), 162.
[6] William F. Brosend, “John 13.1-17, 31b-35 Pastoral,” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 274.
[7] Ibid., 276.
[8] O’Day, 734.


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