‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet’. John 13:3-5
What is the world’s, what is humanity's, what is our, biggest need? Right now it would be a simple bet that most people would say ‘to be rid of this virus’, and that is completely understandable. What dominates our lives, right now, is the threat of this disease and everything else has been put on hold. We are repeatedly told to wash our hands, to help ensure that we do not catch Covid-19. However, in our reading today Jesus gives a very different answer to our question. ‘What is our biggest need?’ Jesus says to be washed spiritually clean.
Jesus is having a final meal with His friends, and in the other Gospels the authors focus our attention on the way Jesus transforms this meal into something even more sublime: the Eucharist. But John’s focus is NOT on the meal, but upon what happens during the meal. Jesus gets up, and washes His disciples feet and as Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, He answers the question I posed at the beginning: ‘what is our biggest need?’ In response to Peter’s protest that Jesus shall never wash his feet, Jesus responds, v8: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ Jesus is crystal clear, isn’t He, if He doesn’t wash Peter then Peter is not in Jesus’ family, is not on Jesus’ team, is not and cannot be a Christian. This is the chief disciple, the one on whom Jesus has already said He will build His Church, and Jesus says ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ What are we to make of this? Well to understand we need to remember the beginning of the story, and by this I don’t mean John 1, but Genesis 1-3. Here we are told of another virus which infects God’s world. A virus which has infected everyone since the beginning of the human race. The symptoms of this virus can be seen everyday in every town and village across the world. This virus has lain at the root of every war, and every famine, and every disaster which has ever happened. And this virus is called Sin. Sin is the virus which cause us to put ourselves first; to put ourselves before God and before other people. And this virus makes us unclean before God, and if we are to enter His presence we must be purified, we must be made clean. Without being made clean, without being washed, we cannot be in God’s presence, and thus v8, Jesus says: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ The wonderful news is that there is a guaranteed way we can get rid of this virus, the cure has already been found! So, how do we get clean? How do we get rid of this virus of sin? Washing our hands won’t help, we need a deeper clean than that. There is only one cure and that is the one administered by Jesus Himself; ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ How does Jesus do this? Jesus does it by incorporating us into His body, bringing us into His Church. And Jesus makes this possible for Peter and for us, by washing us clean by His blood shed on the cross. In this act of washing their feet, Jesus was teaching His disciples why He was going to the cross: in order to make them, and His whole Church clean.
What is our biggest need? Jesus tells us it is to be washed clean of the virus of Sin.This washing can only happen if He goes to the cross, and then by our putting our faith in Him, and accepting baptism.Peter, ever the impetuous one, shouts out, v9: ‘Then, Lord […] not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’ And in response Jesus teaches us that even once we have become a Christian, we remain far from perfect. ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean’ replied Jesus to Peter’s outburst. Brothers and sisters, we keep failing don’t we. We keep falling short of Jesus' standards. We’re not the finished products we’d like to be. We may have had a bath (been baptised) but we keep getting mud on our feet, and on our hands and face too: the mud of our on-going sins. But don’t worry, Jesus knew this would happen, and in His death dealt with this ongoing issue too. Each time we confess our sins Jesus’ blood makes us clean, for ‘those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet’. This, of course, does not mean we can be casual about sin, but rather that in the ordinary course of our lives we are not to hide away from the world, we are not to self-isolate. Instead we are to go out into the world and help others to get clean. Christians are to be the ‘critical workers’ the frontline ‘NHS staff’ in the fight against the spiritual virus of Sin. Those who, having been made clean by Jesus, are called to go and tell people about the offer of a ‘bath’ by the Lord Jesus. So brothers and sisters, let us not hold back from our task. We know the world’s biggest problem, and we know how God has already acted to cure it. Our task is clear, v14, for Jesus has told us: ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.’ Let us then ‘wash one another’s feet’ by reminding one other of the Gospel, and then by sharing that Gospel with our friends and neighbours. For now, from inside our homes, but soon enough by going out and telling the whole world. Amen. (from Rev. Mike)