What does it mean?

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I prayed for understanding of the scene of Jesus washing his disciples feet during the last supper.  The imagery is strtiking: Jesus removes his outer garment, ties a towel around his waist, fills a washbasin with water and proceeds to wash his disciples' feet and dry them with the towel. It doesn't say he knelt in order to accomplish the task. (John 13: 4-9) (Good News Bible)

Also striking to me is Simon Peter's objection to Jesus washing his feet. I can relate to Peter's discomfort: I, too, would be uncomfortable if someone I held in high esteem were to humble himself in the same or similar fashion. Also, Jesus' act seemed so intimate to me, although it may be my 21st century perspective that influences that perception. Having one's feet washed in Jesus' day may have been routine, though it seems it would have been done by a servant.

Then Jesus told Peter if he didn't wash his feet, Peter would no longer be his disciple. Peter then told Jesus to not only wash his feet, but also his hands and head--an attempt to gain control? (Jesus, you're not supposed to perform such a menial task, so if you're going to despite my protestation, make it a greater act.)

The intimacy of the act seems relevant to me. There is already a level of intimacy between Jesus and his disciples. That Jesus would do this humbling task for them seems binding in a way that people who have been saved from death by another express a sense of indebtedness to that person. After he completes his task, Jesus returns to his seat at the table and asks his disciples if they know what he has done to them.

Bind himself to them? Bind them to himself, because with his death he was giving them life?

Jesus also told them his act was an example for them. "I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another's feet." (John 13:14-15). Perhaps telling them that humbling yourself does not make one less, nor does it elevate the recipient, but it is an act of love and binding. Think of the pope or a king placing shoes on a child's or close friend's feet. The status of each remains the same. The slave is not greater than the master. The messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. (John 13:16) Later, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)

Acts do have meaning. Sometimes they transcend our intention. When they do, we know something greater than ourselves and our lives has moved us to an experience we could never imagine nor create for ourselves. The meaning is given to us.

 

 

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