The Journey: John 13
February 25, 2018
I asked a small group I was leading recently about their phobias…what things were they afraid of?
Spiders hit the top of the list…and for good reason in my opinion. Heights…cramped spaces…lots of the favorites, or really, not-so-favorites…
I’ve always seen myself as a pretty reasonable person…no crazy phobias…or so I thought…and then, last week: I met one of my greatest fears: the Car Wash.
On the one hand, getting your car washed has to be one of the most satisfying things you can do. It’s an almost instant before and after. And it’s kind of a beautiful equalizer…no matter if you drive a Mercedes or a Ford Falcon… everyone’s car looks better after a car wash.
You just have to get through it first…
It started out fine…you know, the part where you pay went okay. But then…oh Lord have mercy…it came time to align my wheels in that 3-inch groove. Being the cool mom that I am, I drive a minivan the size of New Hampshire…so it feels like you’re trying to balance a land mass on a tightrope. And it always feels like the line behind me is longer than the Chick-fil-a drive-thru…
…this past week it didn’t go so well. I didn’t get alignment right…there were some noises underneath the car…there were some colorful metaphors muttered…the dude had to come out of his booth to direct me…by the time I reached the octopus washer thing I was sweating…and by then I had moved on to my fear of suds creeping in the windows…
…Carwashaphobia. It’s a real thing.
I was thinking about my weird phobia this week as I considered today’s passage.
Because unlike carwashaphobia, podophobia IS a real thing. The fear of feet.
I know it’s real because it’s on the internet, and everything on the internet is true…I know it’s real because I know that some of us are shifting in our seats because we’re talking about feet outside of sandal season. I know it’s real because Americans spent over 5 billion dollars a year on pedicures…or as my dad calls them, “Foot facials…”
We have strong feelings about feet.
I believe that for as many people who read this passage and immediately want to re-enact it…there are just as many who would run for the hills as soon as they are invited to come forward.
Stay away from my feet.
So its fine to talk about this…as long as it doesn’t end with us taking oﬀ my socks. Don’t worry…it doesn’t.
But even in just talking about it…this is an unsettling text.
It smashes our comfort zones, our boundaries, and even our most preferred vision of Jesus.
We can get on board when it comes to having a servant heart…serving one another…we get the washing part.
But there are a few other elements of this text that are for me, a bit like facing the car wash…
We continue in our walk through the book of John from the crowds to the cross. Last week we looked at Jesus’ final recorded miracle: the raising of Lazarus.
And we talked about the crowd that surrounded Mary and Martha and Jesus. And how many in the crowd came to believe…but there were others who turned Jesus in after this miracle.
So chapter 13 begins with, "Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.”
There is a noticeable turn here.
Jesus knows what is going to happen. He is now gathered with a smaller crowd…his disciples. And he knows that one person in the room is about to betray him.
This act of abundant love is bookended by betrayal…the basin set in the shadow of duplicity and deception.
It is in so many ways a foreshadowing of the crucifixion…Jesus, taking the posture of a slave, pouring himself out. So that we would be made clean.
Perhaps you’ve heard the Sunday school lessons about foot-washing, they usually follow the ones about the intellect of sheep…
Given the importance of washing and sheer level of filth on the streets…foot washing was an important task.
It was customary for guests to wash their own feet. The host would provide a basin and towel.
But in wealthier homes, foot-washing was done by a female slave. It was thought to be the lowliest job there was.
And so it must have come as an incredible shock when in verse 2, John says,
“Jesus got up “during supper”…he took oﬀ his outer robe, tied a towel around himself, and began washing the disciples’ feet.”
We can imagine that the disciples were a little befuddled…right there, in the middle of the pita course…Jesus stands up and starts washing their feet.
Jesus…the one they believe to be the Messiah…God’s son…was doing the job relegated to a female slave…the lowest of the low.
By this point the disciples must have been a little more accustomed to Jesus and his unexpected right turns…but this…this was over to top for even Jesus.
Raise a guy from death to life? Okay, we’re with you. Wash our feet? NO THANK YOU.
Peter, true to form, does not hide his horror. Frankly stating, “You will NEVER wash my feet.”
Peter’s fear is palpable in this text…he did not want any part of this. Any appearance of Jesus serving him was absolutely terrifying to him.
A case of podophobia? Perhaps…but I think it was a little deeper than that…for both him, and perhaps for us as well.
Up until this point, the sign and actions of Jesus had been directed at other people…the sick, the needy…those who ‘really needed him.’ But now, Jesus is kneeling down on the ground and performing the task of a slave…to him.
I wonder if for Peter…it was just too much. As long as Jesus service was directed at others, it was fine. But in this humbling act…he knew that Jesus was looking right at him.
We have this terrible habit of bringing ourselves with us wherever we go. And too many of us carry with us an unredeemed version of ourselves…
Kyle likes to say, “Every morning I wake up, and there I am with myself. I woke up this morning…and guess who was there…”
And so we bring with us our sin, our shame, our guilt, our past failures, and our future fears.
We carry all these things around with us…and they find their way into our psyches and these lies that we tell ourselves become our truths. “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not beautiful enough” “I’m not enough.”
And our fear is that looking at Jesus face to face will only highlight our inadequacies…much less having him wash our feet…
And so we’re better oﬀ washing them ourselves, thank you very much.
After all, that’s what is normally done. If I don’t have to share my shame, then I don’t really have to deal with it.
Peter felt like his whole person was on display in front of Jesus…and he didn’t like it. “You will never wash my feet.”
Many of us are most uncomfortable with this story when we imagine ourselves in the disciples’ seat.
And so we jump to the other spot…to the other side of the basin…because in our minds it’s easier when WE’RE doing the washing…
Serving others? Washing others? I can get on board with that. That is actually what Jesus instructs us to do…its right there! “You ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Why is it easier for us to imagine serving rather than being served?
I think for some of us…it’s easier because it’s safer. It’s a safer place to hide… serve others—give to others—-and you don’t need to rely on anyone else.
And we’ve told ourselves that this is the most God-like posture…we are to be the one doing the service…the washing…the saving…
We forget that just one chapter before this Jesus was at another table.
And in the middle of dinner, Mary took a pound of costly perfume and poured it over Jesus feet…
Jesus was not above washing his disciples’ feet, nor was he below allowing his feet to be washed.
Because before we can be the one washing…we have to be washed.
That is what Jesus modeled to his disciples…he was on both sides of the basin.
Jesus didn’t play a single role of servant…he allowed others to serve him: with meals, and beds, donkeys…he relied on the kindness of others so that he could go about his life’s work.
The problem is…in our culture…there is such a high value placed on autonomy and self-suﬃciency. And you can have these values and serve others…but its pretty hard to maintain your self-reliance when you have to rely on someone else.
So the value of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps has practically become gospel in American culture…
…but this value stands in conflict with Christ’s act of mutuality and service.
And besides, they didn’t have boots. They had sandals…and feet got dirty. And they needed to be washed.
Yes, there is something about this passage that makes us uncomfortable, but maybe it’s not the feet.
It’s that our preferred view of Jesus is a mighty savior who stays ‘right there’… looking fierce, and majestic, and defending us against all manner of bad things.
And so when we realize that he has stooped down to wash our feet, to carry our sin, to die for us…it is too much to handle.
It was too much for the crowd…it was too much for Judas… But closer still…it was too much for Peter.
But he stays in the chair…(and after trying to give Jesus a bit more direction…) he stops talking and allows Jesus to wash his feet.
Jesus says to Peter, you don’t understand now…but you will.
You don’t understand that this act of service is actually an act of salvation.
“Unless I wash you, you have no share of me.”
And so we all must sit in the chair. And give our whole selves over to Christ… even our feet.
Jesus says I see you. I love you. And I’m about to die for you.
But first, I’m going to wash your feet. And then I want you to wash the feet of others.
Friends, life is messy. And there is much to fear.
Darkness and betrayal bookend our journey. And it is easy to find ourselves dirty and dusty.
And so we must follow Christ together, all the way to the cross…serving one another and allowing ourselves to be served.
Placing ourselves on both sides of the basin…