After [Jesus] had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.
It’s probably not surprising that this is the time of year when I wrestle with doubt. This is the hard season. Christmas is easy because there’s music being piped into all the shopping malls and who doesn’t love a chubby baby and stockings hung by the chimneys with care? Christmas is easy theological treading for me. Easter, however, continues to kick my ass every year without fail.
It’s getting tiresome.
Is resurrection a metaphor? Is there any historical validity to this crazy tale? I mean, the whole thing is rather spurrious. Every tale in the Christian scriptures differs in little ways depending on the story teller and most scholars agree that each is bending the tale to suit a certain purpose. This is not historical fact but religious gospel.
I have a problem with gospel-truth. It’s so...slippery. Ephemeral. Unless gospel-truth is connected with factual-truth, I have a hard time trusting it. And the only “reliable” source we have is the New Testament and they are true not because they have been vetted in some way but because, well, because they say they are true. “This is the truth? Why? Because I say so.”
So, here’s this story about Jesus. He’s just washed the disciples feet and he goes all truthy on them. He says, “tell them what I have told you because I’m your Teacher and Lord.” Jesus is Master and he gets to say what truth is (Star Wars conflations abound here - Thanks, George Lucas).
Jesus has once again turned the Master/Servant thing upside down (something Lucas wrestles with). The Master is the one who serves. The servants of the Master are to be like the Master in that they too should serve. “Love one another,” will follow. It’s a big moment in John’s Gospel-truth. John (or whoever wrote it) hangs everything on this scene. This here is when we get to see Jesus for whom John claims he is. Jesus is The Servant of Servants. If we wish to be like Jesus, we cannot forget this.
There is no empire building.
There is no entrepreneurial vision.
There is no institution keeping.
There is simply service.
But the story does not end here, does it? It never does. And this is what messes with me every time. Every. Time.
I want the story to end here so badly. I want it to end with this truth. I want it to end in humble service. But, no, the week is not yet done and John’s story is far from over. There will be proclamations and visions, death, destruction, horrific grief, and then the least believable thing will happen.
And, of course, I’ll get hung up on resurrection and forget this whole footwashing ever happened. I’ll forget to love because I’ll be trying to prove or disprove the resurrection.
Jesus should have started his lesson in this passage with “I know y’all are going to forget all about this part, but try to pay attention.”