16"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.
The Sixth Wednesday in Lent 3/24/21
Jesus Servant of Us All
Humble: He Washed Their Feet
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Jesus, Servant of Us All has been our theme throughout this Lenten season. We have looked at the suffering servant passages of the prophet Isaiah and considered the many ways that Jesus served us in His time here on earth and since besides the suffering and death which is the focus of this season. Tonight is our final mid-week Lenten service. We finally look at Jesus as foot-washer, the Servant as a humble servant.
The foot washing is described in John 13: Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. And so He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you shall understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
What Peter was objecting to was that Jesus was performing the most menial and humble of tasks. The least important among servants did this for guests. But here was the Master, stooping and acting like a common slave. On the other hand, the one whose feet was washed was declared to be the more important person. So Peter naturally refused. He did not want Jesus to humble Himself, and he did not want Jesus to declare him and the others as masters.
In modern society, we figure everyone is equal. We live under the idea that anyone can go anywhere with equal freedom. Most of humanity has not lived by those rules for most of history. Keeping one’s place, filling one’s niche, and not getting out of line and out of the order of things has been vitally important – often a matter of life and death. Peter saw Jesus’ behavior as an enormous breach of etiquette and decency. That is why he tried to refuse Jesus.
But Jesus would not let him refuse. “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” We can see the double entendre – washing the feet or washing away one’s sins. But the threat was the same, refuse to let Me be the Servant and cleanse you, and you shall not participate in Me and in My things.
Peter then swung to the opposite extreme – “Then don’t just stop at my feet! Wash me all over!” Jesus also cautioned against the other extreme. It was unnecessary. Only washing the feet was needed now. Jesus needed it to make the point of His lesson.
The point of His lesson was that if He who was Lord and Teacher could humbly and willingly stoop down to the most abject and humble of service for his followers, they could imitate Him and stoop to the most abject humility for the sake of one another. It is important to note that Jesus did this, as John reports, knowing that God had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was soon to return to God. He did this fully conscious that He is God and had all authority on earth, and that everyone everywhere owed Him worship and service and praise.
Jesus knew who He was and still did this. And He did it to make the point that we can and we are also to serve one another. Not one of us possesses anything like such great glory from which to humble ourselves and stoop down. Very few of us need to stoop to such abject humility, nor does life ask us to make that self-humbling often. Still, we are to serve one another, just as Jesus served us. If we refuse to be humble toward one another, we are not His. He said we are to do the same toward one another, and that we were blessed if we both understood and acted upon these things. Those two comments together mean do it, imitate Me.
Jesus, who is servant of us all, is Lord and King. He taught us that the proper use of authority and power are not to serve or profit the self or to control and dominate others. God gives us authority and power only so that we may serve. Consider: He used His power to save us, and His authority to bless us. It is the sin in us which switches that order around in our minds. Only sin takes power to serve the self and authority to force one’s own preferences and opinions. Sin twists the true nature of power and authority into something manipulative and coercive.
By tying the towel around His waist, and telling us to do the same toward one another, Jesus contradicted everything we have been taught by life in this world of sin. Might does not make right. Might does right – and enables others to also do right. Authority does not make us able to dominate or manipulate others, it makes one able to help and rescue others. Power does not give one the ability to get what they want accomplished, it gives them the ability to do what needs to be done.
Jesus, Servant of us all, taught us that. We are to serve one another. We are to use the freedom and power of the gospel to do the things we have been shown are needed. What are these things? Our text in Isaiah gives us a shopping list of things that the Gospel gives us the power to do.
Isaiah writes, “Wash yourself, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from my sight.” These things are accomplished by the forgiveness which Christ won for us. Washing, of course, puts us in mind of our baptism. We wash ourselves by believing the Word of God, and by making daily use of our baptism as Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism:
What does this baptizing with water mean?
It means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and, on the other hand, a new man emerge daily, and take his stand, who shall live in righteousness and purity before God forever.
Jesus said to Peter, “You are already clean.” Our sins have been punished. The guilt has been expiated and taken away. We have been cleansed in the waters of baptism and we are forgiven.
Again, Isaiah writes, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” We have that power by the Holy Spirit in us. We can put to death the deeds of the body, as St. Paul described it. We were made God’s children in order to do the good works God has planned for us. These good works of service are what the authority and the power which Jesus shares with us is about. Just as He washed feet humbly, we are to use our power and gospel authority to cease to do evil and learn to do good.
“Seek justice; reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” These things are the proper uses of power. These are what God has given us new life to do in this world. We are to reflect Him, His love, His priorities, and attitudes. Jesus stooped to wash the feet of those who should have served Him. He came to rescue us and plead our cause with His suffering and death on the cross. We follow His example and bring His activity into our world when we live in society in this manner. These things are not the mission of the Church, as Church, but are the will of God for His people as His people. The Church doesn’t seek justice – Christians do. The Church doesn’t defend the orphan, but the individual believers who are in and of the church can and should and must.
“Social ministry,” as our church calls it, is not rightly the primary goal of the congregation – or of the Synod. But it is the necessary and beneficial expression of the love of God by the people who have experienced His grace and goodness. These are the kinds of things that show our neighbors who God is and what He is like, and what a difference He makes in the lives of His people.
And the peace, and the harmony, which the serving of one another within the church promotes, are all part of what Jesus was teaching His disciples, that night when He humbled Himself and washed their feet.
“For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Jesus, Servant of us all, got down on His knees before His disciples, and humble, He washed their feet. We can do no other than love and serve one another, following His example.
Meditate on Jesus’ final days before Holy Week, and see the King of kings, humble, serving us all – and learn humility from Him.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,
(Let the people say “Amen”.)