John 13:1-35

(Jesus washes the disciples feet.)

From Ron Adams:

This is a familiar story and one that is dear to the hearts of Mennonites. We read it whenever we wash each other’s feet. We can picture it so clearly. Jesus on his knees, a towel around his waist, making his way around the circle of his closest friends, washing their feet one by one. We anticipate Peter’s objection. He is the disciple most like us, with his habit of speaking before thinking, confident and confused at the same time. We know this story well. We know what comes next, too. Jesus tells of his betrayal. The disciples speculate. Judas shares a bit of bread with Jesus. Judas flees. And the ending is in sight.

Another, perhaps less familiar, aspect of this story is that it begins and ends with love. John tells us that Jesus knew it was time to confront the powers. It was time for him “to depart from this world and go to the Father.” A polite way of telling us that the time had come for Jesus to be killed. Then John offers what I think is one of the most heartbreaking verses in scripture. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He loved them to the end. John means that Jesus loved his disciples all the way to the end of his life on earth. But that’s not all. I think John is also telling us that Christ’s love for us goes all the way to the end of all things, just as it began before the beginning of all things. It is a limitless, timeless love. A love given to the faithful, the sinful, the healthy, the sick, the denier, the betrayer, the neighbor and the enemy. A love revealed to us on the cross, and seen even more clearly in the empty tomb. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

The story ends with Jesus giving his friends a new commandment. They are to love one another. That doesn’t seem new, does it? Isn’t that the good old golden rule? Why does Jesus call it a new commandment? Could it be because of what follows, when Jesus commands them to love one another as he loved them? Meaning, I believe, loving them without limitation. Loving them fully, completely, and forever. Loving them to the end. Is what makes this commandment new the lifting of all restrictions, all limitations, all hindrances to loving one another?

And I wonder. Did Jesus use his last moments with his friends to command them to love each other because he knew it would be the first thing they’d forget once the crisis was over? Or the first thing they’d lose track of when the next crisis came around?

In his last hours, in a time of intense stress, in the very moment of his betrayal, and as he was confronted yet again by the cluelessness of his closest friends, Jesus demands one thing: love one another. Not judge one another. Not clean up one another. Not draw up membership guidelines or confessions of faith or doctrinal statements or litmus tests of any kind. None of that. In his last hours with his friends, Jesus tells them to love one another as he loved them. How can we disciples do anything less than do our best to keep that commandment?