The Last People I Want to Love
I like to love people who are easy to love. I prefer to show love in ways where I can control what others think about me. Sometimes I wish to “tell it like it is” in the name of love, when really I’m being hurtful and unwise. Jesus, however, blows all of these desires out of the water. He sinks them to the bottom of the ocean and leaves me with no hope that they will ever be salvaged. And that’s a good thing.
As I watch Jesus on the last night of his life, I see him do the exact opposite of my natural desires. I see him love those who are not easy to love. He loves in ways that are out of his control. And he doesn’t address some of the obvious sin issues in the room.
Jesus isn’t surrounded by a comforting and supportive gang right before he dies. His crew is infiltrated with personal agendas and self-centeredness. I can only imagine how I would have handled the disciples. My mouth would have laid it all out to show myself in the right and them in the wrong. Yet, John 13 makes it clear that at the forefront of Jesus’ mind is loving them to the end. Jesus chose the opposite of controlling the situation for his own good; he leads his disciples with love that doesn’t protect himself from shame, powerlessness, or hurt. Jesus loves lowly, through humiliating service. The God-Man washed the feet of the infuriating disciples… in a loin cloth… like the most unworthy of slaves.
Jesus Loved the Deceitful
The opening verses of chapter 13 let us know that Jesus knows his future, his identity, and his authority. (John 13:1-2) With that introduction, along with the clarity that Judas’ mind was set on betrayal, one would expect Jesus to take matters into his own hands. He has all the power, and he knows one of his closest friends is about to help kill him. This is one who had eaten, slept, talked, prayed, and ministered alongside him for years. The depth of the betrayal must have felt like a third degree burn. We can almost imagine the scene where Jesus confronts Judas with great anger (righteous anger, we’d even add) and turns the tables on this deceitful foe-friend. Instead, we see Jesus get up to strip off his clothes. He takes a towel, water, and a basin. He kneels in front of a disciple, likely Judas first as there is reason to believe he was sitting next to Jesus, and washes his feet. It’s probable that no one in the room had ever washed anyone else’s feet before. It was such a lowly task that it was associated with only the lowest of slaves-- gentile women. Yet here’s Jesus washing the feet of his betrayer.
This is not my first inclination. I would have “fixed” the problem. I would have called it like I saw it, with self-righteousness and decisiveness. Judas would have left humiliated. Alternatively, Jesus chose humiliation and service. Jesus loved lowly.
Jesus Loved the Arrogant
The disciples had a certain air about them by this time. James and John had, with the help of Mom, asked if they could have the top spots in Jesus’ rule. (Matt. 20:21) Peter was about to tell Jesus that even if everyone else abandoned him, Jesus could count on him – he was better than the other guys, apparently. (Matt. 26:33) Even that very night they argued about who was the greatest. (Luke 22:24) Hands down: they were incredibly self-exalting and proud.
Instead, Jesus loved lowly.
The disciples were seeking honor for their greatness, and while Jesus could have reminded them how much better he was than each of them, he didn’t. I would have at least reminded them of their place. Instead, Jesus loved lowly. Though they were seeking honor with all their might, Jesus chose shame as he performed the lowest of tasks to their shock and horror.
Jesus Loved the Overbearing
Peter was the one to express his horror out loud. “Lord, do you wash my feet?” wasn’t really a question if you read it in context. Peter wanted control of this situation. He didn’t like the idea of Jesus washing his feet, and his discomfort manifested in a strong prohibition. We see throughout the gospels Peter liked to talk back to Jesus and was doing that here. Though Peter believes Jesus is the Messiah, he also apparently believes that the Christ needs some molding from Peter’s wisdom once in a while.
In my desire to handle the opposition, I would have encouraged Peter to step in line, looking down on him from the place of top authority. Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus doesn’t take away his choice; he gives him a statement that includes the consequences of not allowing Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus lowly loved him and continued to put himself at the bottom as he kneeled with water and a towel.
My natural response to deceit, arrogance, and overbearing action is to try to take on the situation and set them straight. That seems wise, right? While there may be times to address these attitudes, Jesus chose another way with his disciples. He showed them his character and mission in a humble act of service. He absorbed their evil attitudes and took the opportunity to give a foreshadowing of his humiliating act of service and cleansing to come the next day, his death on the cross.
Just after Jesus washes their feet and gets up again he explains, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” So there’s my scuttled preferences- sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Turning my concepts of shame and hierarchy on their heads, Jesus shows me how to love and serve. It is love that is willing to walk into humiliation, shame, and the bottom place. The hard truth is that it does often lead to those things. Because it’s so hard, you and I can only love like that when we have first been washed, served, and loved ourselves by Jesus. Since he has loved us in our selfish agenda, arrogance and controlling behavior, we can love others like that, too. It means we’re called to love lowly, even when it hurts.