13 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. 5Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. 6He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,[a] but he is clean all over; and you[b] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.”
12When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[c] is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen; it is that the scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19I tell you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.”
Empowering Servant Leadership is recognizing that all people of God are given spiritual gifts meant for building up the Church. Every part is necessary. Every part is valuable, and every voice is important. Every person should be equipped, nurtured, and supported to use their gifts to glorify God, through servant leadership; not just cliques of powerful people or continual burnout of the same leaders. The model of empowering servant leaders is about using the gifts of ALL God’s people. The one’s we know have gifts and the ones that we are uncertain about. This is the model that we find with Jesus especially with the Twelve.
In our Scripture lesson today, Jesus is speaking to his closest followers. By this point, he has already modeled God’s love by associating with people society deemed unworthy, including tax collectors and prostitutes. He has healed and fed without requiring people to complete 14-page intake forms. As a result, Jesus was considered unruly, unclean and threatening to religious and government authorities seeking to maintain order.
When Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,” in John 13:34, he isn’t talking about doing so only when it is easy. In fact, within the context of the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus knows that everything is going to change for him.
The chapter begins by revealing that “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” (John 13:1) We learn that Jesus knows that Judas will betray him, making a deal that would lead to his death on the cross.
And how does Jesus respond?
He gets down and washes his disciples’ feet—including Judas, as far as we know. This was something that leaders of higher status were simply not supposed to do. Peter is stunned, telling him that Jesus should never wash his feet. Afterward, Jesus explains his actions. I invite you to read John 13:12-17:
“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. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
Jesus used the seemingly simple—and admittedly dirty—act of washing feet to illustrate God’s love. Biblical scholar Sandra M. Schneiders writes that “Every act of service, however ordinary, because it consists in preferring another to oneself, is essentially an act of self-gift and, therefore, expression of love . . .” Schneiders observes that the Gospel of John “. . . Shows little interest in the institutional aspects of ‘Church,’ a word we do not find in this Gospel,” going on to explain that titles do not matter in this community: “On the contrary, the only preferential status is closeness to Jesus, and that is equally open to men and women, Samaritans, Gentiles, and Jews. This seems to have been a thoroughly egalitarian community.”
Jesus did not provide any qualifiers for loving one another.
He loved to the point of washing the feet of Judas.
How could he do that?
Maybe it was because he took the time to understand where Judas was coming from.
While Judas is often dismissed as one of the villains of the Bible who sold out God incarnate for thirty pieces of silver, it is much more complicated than that. Numerous faith thinkers through the years have wondered whether Judas shared the expectations of many religious people of the time–that the true messiah or savior would arrive and restore order in a militaristic fashion that everyone could experience first-hand. Instead, he had been following a person who constantly seemed to break the rules and demonstrated no desire or capability to overthrow the Roman authorities. The leader Judas had envisioned would not wash the filthy feet of some fishermen and other common folk, yet Jesus did just that.
Jesus knew this. Jesus knew Judas would betray him.
Judas had a backstory that we don’t know much about, but Jesus did.
Jesus knew his heart. He loved him. And he tells his followers, including us, to love one another as he has loved us.
Whether you commute to Calvary from the suburbs, sleep on the streets, or live around the corner from the church, Jesus challenges us to redefine the notion of neighbor. He calls us to see all people as neighbors. Especially in a community like this, that is incredibly difficult.
We all have the people who drive us nuts. Those people who don’t clean up after their dogs. Those people who put a plate that is clearly compostable in the landfill bin. Those people who watch that other channel that dares to call itself news. Those people who just stand on the street asking for money and aren’t trying to get a job. Those people who are nothing like me . . .
At my last clergy bible study, one of my clergy colleagues told about a ride on the PATCO into Philadelphia, a man stood in the middle of the train and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention.” He stood there in silence for about 30 seconds as the passengers—including me—continued to look at our phones and devices. “I’m sorry to interrupt you,” the man said. “I just want to give you some encouragement to treat others how you want to be treated as well.” He paused for a while longer. “I just feel so invisible.” At this point, most folks put down our phones.
The man talked about how he was trying to get some food, and how he understood why people would be hesitant to help. He stood there in silence, still feeling invisible. One young man gave him a box of granola bars. Another woman gave him a banana. Another young couple that appeared to be carrying most of their belongings in backpacks gave him a roll of quarters. The man named Theo smiled and said the people were the first to acknowledge him. When we do something that makes invisible person feel visible and loved, we following the command of Jesus to love one another. That is the call to live out Servant Leadership. That is the call of empowering others to share their gifts. That is the call to see people where they are and show Christ’s love to them.
As the old saying goes, we are surrounded by people who are fighting battles we know nothing about. Someone sitting near you has been dealing with chronic pain or depression so long they don’t talk about it, and will probably say “fine” when you ask how they are doing. Jesus sees you and loves you.
Many here today have lost loved ones and are processing grief as best they can.
The person who seems to be critical of everything you do might have had a parent who didn’t ever really offer praise, and perhaps their parents were the same way.
Jesus sees you and loves you.
Some of our students are struggling with classes and freaking out about college or grad school, with some feeling truly overwhelmed. More people than you realize are sitting next to others who support a different political party or candidate, even though we’re in San Francisco and assume people are like-minded. Jesus sees you and loves you.
Jesus knew that Judas and numerous others had serious issues, and he still chose to love them. Though the Presbyterian Church doesn’t technically have saints, Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers Neighborhood would have to be one of them. Mr. Rogers says, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Commentary provided by John Weems, Sandra L. Randleman, David Lose, Shannon J. Kershner and Lillian Daniel