Sunday, May 12, 2019

John 13.31-35: As I Have Loved You

A new commandment I give you, Jesus said on the night of his arrest. That you love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34). On the same evening that Jesus made this statement he had demonstrated his love of the disciples by offering a gesture of hospitality. Because no one had offered to wash the dust from the feet of the travelers, Jesus did it himself. He even called attention to the act saying in verse 13: 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. It's almost the same language as verse 34. Jesus has set an example that we are to follow.

Scottish painter David Wilkie lived in Rome in 1827. Among the scenes of devotion that he witnessed (and painted) were the women - particularly upper-class women...and the occasional grand courtesan who snuck in - who undertook the practice of hospitality in the form of washing the feet of pilgrims. From earliest times, pilgrims traveled to Rome, especially in Jubilee years. By the middle of the 15th century, more than 1,000 inns and places of lodging for visitors were available in Rome. Religious organizations became more involved in caring for visitors. Women, richly dressed as shown here, knelt at the feet of pilgrims and washed their feet.
David Wilkie. A Roman Princess Washing the Feet of Pilgrims. 1827. Royal Collection Trust.
Jesus' act of humble service was re-enacted almost from the earliest days of Christ's church. I Timothy 5:9-10 highlighted this particular act of service as exemplary: Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once; she must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way. Though never named a sacrament, the practice of footwashing was a regular occurrence in churches on Maundy Thursday.

As with so many acts of faith and devotion, the practice of footwashing can be both an act of humility and an act of pride. Undertaken as an act of service, it provides a moment of tenderness and care for one of God's children. But, of course, it can also be a travesty when the footwashing is preceded and/or followed by a lack of concern for the one whose feet have just been washed. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus said. Remember, Jesus washed Judas' feet, too. 

This week on Art&Faith Matters on closely should a pattern be followed? See it here.  For thoughts on Acts 11:1-8, click here

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