John 13:1-11

1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.

And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

Giovanni Agostino Da Lodi (1467-1525) Washing of the Apostles Feet

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’

10Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

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Jesus, “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” (John 13:4,5)

It is such an act of humility and vulnerability. Peter understands immediately how wrong this feels and announces to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” (John 13:8) But Peter is not seeing the world through Jesus-eyes. He still believes in the perks of power and privilege. In the world Peter inhabits, the teacher, the leader, the master does not serve the student. The student lives to serve the master. Jesus turns this vision upside down.

In the Jesus kingdom, the leader is the one who makes himself vulnerable to those he seeks to lead. The teacher teaches, not by dominating or demanding, but by living a life of love and sacrifice.

What made it possible for Jesus to take this lowly position in relationship to his disciples?

Jesus could take the role of servant because he had a strong and secure sense of identity. He knew the source of his power; he understood where he had come from and where he was going (John 13:3). Because he was secure in his true and deepest self, Jesus did not need the trappings of privilege and power to shore up his identity. With nothing to prove, Jesus was free to serve.

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What helps me stay connected to a true sense of my genuine identity? What makes it possible for me to “take off my outer robe” and stop trying to protect myself?