All eyes are on the basin and the towel. We use that as the focal point for this service, read the story at the beginning of the service, order our evening around it. We meticulously make note of all of Jesus’ actions here.
He takes the towel and wraps it around himself.
He washes the Disciple’s feet.
He models what it is to be servant.
He tells them that they will not understand what he is doing for them now, but will understand later.
He asks them if they have understood, and once again commands them to wash one another’s feet.
“You call me teacher and Lord…” He says to them. “So if I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example…”
Yes, all eyes are on the basin and towel and trying to figure out what example Jesus sets there, and of course we should be focused there.
Jesus teaches servanthood.
Jesus models doing for others.
Jesus encourages his disciples to not just to know intellectually about these things surrounding the washing of feet, (that they should serve one another,) but blessed are you if you do them!
And so, we are often so focused this night on the towel and the basin and what Jesus does there that we miss something else that he does, another example set.
It has to do with bread.
We know that Jesus is a little bit “bread obsessed.”
Bread was the focal point of the temptation in the wilderness, to make loaves out of stones. We tend to view that in utilitarian terms, but if you’ve ever walked into a room when fresh baked bread has just come out of the oven you know the effect it has on you.
Don’t imagine that the devil didn’t employ all the senses, to try to get to Jesus.
It is the scent of yeast and the action of leavening that Jesus uses to describe what the Kingdom of God is like, infecting, infiltrating, and causing change in whatever it touches or gets into.
In John’s Gospel we have that whole, long extended narrative of Jesus talking about how he is the “Bread of life,” and what kind of bread people are pursuing, and what they are missing.
In the miraculous feedings it is bread that multiplies, that is gathered by the basket full as a sign of God’s abundance and provision.
Jesus takes the loaf to symbolize his own body.
So while all eyes this night tend to be on the towel and basin, it might be important to cast our gaze at least for a moment on the other example that Jesus sets in the bread.
“Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” Jesus says.
A shocking revelation that makes the disciple all look at one another.
“Lord who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when it is dipped in the dish.”
And here now, all our eyes need to move from the towel and basin to the piece of bread. We watch intently as Jesus dips, and hands it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, with the comment, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”
Is this an example set as well?
If so, just what kind of example?
Is it an example of how we ought to point out the offenders in our midst? Single out and expose the traitor, show everyone who and what he or she is, or capable of?
No, because the truth is no one in the room that night picks up on that from Jesus’ actions.
We’re told that the disciples (at that moment) didn’t understand the comment about “do quickly.”
They thought Jesus was referring to some financial matter that needed attending.
They thought it was something to do with the festival.
They had no idea that betrayal was on his mind, and you wonder why that is? How could you spend so much time, three years walking around with someone and not know what they are capable of doing?
How could they not have known the Judas was going to be the one to betray?
The answer to that is found in the looks they give to one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.
It could have been any of them. That’s what they are thinking.
He has washed their feet… all of them…. Even the one Jesus said was not clean, but you couldn’t tell who it was from the foot washing that Jesus was talking about.
To find out who will betray, you have to fix your eyes on the bread.
You have to watch Jesus take it, break it, dip it, and offer it with the encouragement to “go and do quickly…”
It is the bread that shows us who will betray Jesus.
And that makes this night’s actions all the more powerful and poignant, for to whom did the bread come this night?
It came to you.
It came to me.
It came from Jesus actions to our lips, and as we taste it we know two things deeply, and simultaneously.
I don’t deserve this… and it could be me who betrays.
We don’t deserve this… this love, this trust, this gift from Jesus meant to sustain us, even those of us intent on betraying him.
Jesus offers bread for the journey to Judas, even knowing what kind of journey he is about to take, and what kind of journey to the cross Judas’ actions will precipitate.
And as such, this is a peculiar gift and comfort to us as well. For, you see, we know we won’t be able to keep from betraying Jesus either.
We will betray Jesus with our own uncleanness, the choices we’ll make, the comments we’ll spit out thoughtlessly, the things we will do.
We will betray him with our words.
We will betray him with our actions.
We will betray him with our thoughts, and with our thoughtless words and actions.
We will betray Jesus with our inaction on things, the places when and where we could have spoken or intervened but chose not to for fear of being ridiculed or teased.
We will betray him, this we know deeply because we are human and we are susceptible to the wiles of the evil one, and powerless at times over our own appetites, and our desires, and we are terribly short-sighted in our ability to love.
Jesus knows all of this, and still dips the bread and gives it to us, with the command to “do quickly what you are going to do.”
Jesus hands us the bread, his own body and blood to strengthen us in our living, hoping that at least on some occasions what we will do is what something that would be pleasing in God’s sight.
Jesus feeds us.
Jesus also gives us the command to love one another, precisely because he knows, (and we know it as well,) that we are capable of some pretty un-loveable and unforgiveable things, and we will need all the strength we can muster and receive to live into his promised Kingdom.
In this, the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified. Jesus and God is glorified in the ability to love, and to serve, and to provide for and sustain even those who cannot and will not be able to follow to the end.
And so, to those who eat the bread, and have their feet washed, Jesus gives the commend to love, precisely because it could be any of us who betrays, and Jesus knows that.
So therefore, love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you can have this kind of love, if you are able to love and care for even for the betrayer in your midst.
All eyes were on the towel and basin, but it was the bread that showed us the love of Jesus. From his hands, to our lips, … love one another, even knowing what you know.