John's Gospel - a new look Number 14: Chapter 13 The lesson in servanthood
John's Gospel . A New Look- number 14: Chapter 13 - A lesson in serving.
As Jesus now turns to his disciples in this his final hour, John tells us that he loves them (agape) as his Father loved them. They are confused by his teaching and by his statements that he is soon to leave them. Satan is working in the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray him. Many conflicting thoughts go through their minds and in Luke's Gospel account we are told that they are arguing about who would be "counted as the greatest" (Luke 22:24). In that gospel is recorded what he says to them, but John describes what Jesus taught them in the powerful example of the washing of their feet.
When people met for a meal in the time of Jesus, a servant would come around and wash their feet as a sign of hospitality and preparation for the meal. The dusty streets were dirty and as people walked bare foot or in their sandal type shoes, their feet would become dirty and sweaty. In this scene no-one was going to perform this task as it would indicate their inferior position in the group. They were prepared to fight for the sceptre of leadership, but not for the towel of service. So Jesus graphically illustrates the lessons of humility and service that he previously taught as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1- 16 and Luke 6:20-38). In this world where everyone is grabbing for power and possessions, Jesus teaches a very different message; one of service above self, and how powerfully he does that in this simple ceremony. The fishermen's feet that had once strained to bring in the nets from the Lake of Galilee, now dusty and dirty in the streets of Jerusalem. Washed with the soft hands of the teacher who claimed to be the very Son of God, kneeling in front of them wearing the servants towel. What a lesson to be imprinted on their minds and souls.
On a deeper level John is perhaps also illustrating the cleansing of the soul that can only take place by means of the living water that Jesus brings. In their faith and discipleship, the followers at that meal can be assured that God has accepted them and so Jesus declares them clean. But Judas Iscariot has failed the test in his greed and betrayal , and is declared to not be clean.
In contrast to the poor example of his disciples who are fussing about positions of leadership, Jesus illustrated what real Christianity is meant to be and then gives them this great promise "If you know this and do it you will be happy" (John 13:17). If only we can grasp this great truth today.
In this chapter John also records how intensely Jesus felt at this time as he declares that one at the table will betray him. As he carefully points to Judas by sharing some food from the dinner, he does not make a public show of it but allows the betrayer to slip away to do his dastardly deed. And John records "It was night". (vs. 30)
Here again is the contrast between light and darkness graphically illustrated as John records this dramatic moment. We will see it again on the cross and we see it often in human behaviour as it reaches moments of deep darkness. It is only in love that darkness can be driven out as Jesus explains in the new command that he issues at this time: "That you love one another as I have loved you" (vs.34).
Peter, again in this chapter, plays an important role as the one who interacts with Jesus in an enthusiastic if somewhat naïve way and then finally assures a somewhat sceptical Jesus that he is prepared to lay down his life for his leader. John describes the dramatic picture of what Jesus says to Peter about the cock crowing. That sound must have haunted Peter for the rest of his life. Every morning at first light for the rest of his life Peter must have been awakened by that sad sound. Perhaps it is just as well that we today often live in an urban environment and so do not hear the cock crow!