Washing the Disciples Feet
( Originally Published 1915 )
TUESDAY HAD been a busy day for Jesus, as we have already seen; but Wednesday must have been a quiet day, for none of the four gospels tells us of any events taking place on that day. Jesus knew that in two days more his sufferings were to begin, and he needed Wednesday, his last full day, for rest and for talking with his Father in heaven. On Wednesday, therefore, Jesus was alone with God, not talking much with his disciples.
On Thursday evening was to be held by all the Jews the great Feast of the Passover. This kept in mind the day, more than a thousand years before, when the Israelites went out of Egypt and became a free people. At that time each Israelite family in Egypt killed a lamb, roasted it, and ate it, their last meal in Egypt; and with it they ate "unleavened bread," that is, bread made without yeast; somewhat like soda biscuit. In memory of that day, the families of Israel went up to Jerusalem every year in the spring and ate a dinner of roasted lamb with unleavened bread, which they called "The Feast of the Passover," because on that night in Egypt the angel of death "passed over" the homes of the Israelites, while he brought death to the families of Egypt.
On Thursday morning, Peter and John came to Jesus in Bethany and said :
"Master, where shall we make ready the Passover feast for you?"
"Go into the city," answered Jesus, "and you will meet a man carrying a jar of water; follow him, and into whatever house he goes, say to the man living there, `The Teacher says, I must eat the passover at your house tonight with my disciples—where is my room?' And this man will show you a large room upstairs; there make ready all things for the supper."
Peter and John went from Bethany into the city as they were told; they met the man with the water jar and followed him to the house. There they found the owner of the house, and spoke to him as Jesus had said. This man may have been a follower of Jesus, glad to have his Master take a meal at his house. He led Peter and John upstairs into a large room, with tables standing, and around them couches for the guests.
Then the two disciples went into the market and bought a lamb. This they carried upon their shoulders to the Temple. There it was killed and its blood was poured out at the foot of the great altar. The lamb was then roasted in an oven; and after sunset it was brought to the supper room and placed upon the table. Beside it were the flat biscuits of unleavened bread, and also some vegetables of a slightly bitter taste, to be eaten with the lamb.
Late on Thursday afternoon Jesus and the rest of his disciples left Bethany. Jesus alone knew that this was his last farewell to that home and its loving people; but he said nothing, not wishing to alarm them. Among his followers on that afternoon was Judas Iscariot, knowing that he had sold his Master to his enemies, and that the thirty silver pieces were even then in his money bag. Jesus knew it, too, but he said not a word of it, either to Judas or the disciples.
They went around the Mount of Olives, crossed the valley, and came through one of the gates into the city; then found their way among the streets on Mount Zion to the house where in the upper room the supper was all ready for them. Here, as many times before, arose a little quarrel over the question as to which of the twelve disciples should sit at the guest table with Jesus, for that table was the place of honor. Jesus stopped the dispute by saying to them what he had said before:
"He that would be greatest among you, let him take the lowest place; and he who would be chief, let him become your servant. But there is no need for you to be anxious about places. You have stood by me through all my trials, and I will give you all high places in my kingdom, for you shall sit on twelve thrones, each of you over one of the tribes of Israel."
But Jesus in teaching his disciples lowliness of mind and unselfishness of spirit, did not stop with words. He taught them by an act which made them wonder. Just before the supper, he rose from the couch where he was lying, took off his robe and outer garments, then tied a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples as they were reclining around the tables, their heads toward the tables, their feet away from them. Jesus came first to Simon Peter, and stood at his feet, holding the basin of water. Peter looked up at him, and saw that the Saviour was preparing. to wash his feet.
"What, Master!" said Peter. "Are you going to wash my feet?"
"You do not understand now what this means," said Jesus, "but you will learn after a time."
"You, my Lord, shall never wash my feet!" said Peter.
"Unless I wash you," answered Jesus, "you are not one of mine."
"Then, Master," said Peter, "if that be so, wash not only my feet, but my hands and my head!"
"He who has already bathed," said Jesus, "is clean, and needs only to wash his feet. And you are clean—but not every one of you."
In those words "not every one of you," he was thinking of Judas, the traitor, who was there with the others.
So Jesus washed Peter's feet and wiped them dry with the towel around his waist; and he went around the couches, washing the feet of every disciple, even the feet of wicked Judas. When he had finished, he took off the towel, and put on his outer clothes, and took again his place at the table.
" Do you understand the meaning of what I have done to you?" said Jesus.
"You call me your Teacher and your Lord, and you are right, for I am both Teacher and Lord. Well, if I, who am your Teacher and your Lord, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. I have set you an example, that you should do what I have done to you. I tell you truly, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sends him. If you know all this, you are happy if you do them."
Then Jesus went on, saying, "When I say `you' I do not mean all of you; for there is one of you eating with me now who will give me up to my enemies. Truly, truly, I tell you one of you shall betray me!"
As Jesus said this his face showed that he was in deep trouble. The disciples looked at each other, not knowing of whom Jesus was speaking. They too were filled with sorrow, and began to say to him, all around the table, "Is it I, Lord?"
" One of you that puts his hand into the same dish with me,” answered Jesus, "is the traitor. The Son of Man goes from earth, as has been written of him in the Scripture, but woe, woe to that man who betrays his 'Lord! It would have been well for that man if he had never been born!"
Next to Jesus at the table was reclining one of the disciples, John, whom Jesus loved greatly. Simon Peter made signs to John, which meant, "Find out who it is that he is speaking of."
So John leaned back on Jesus' shoulder and whispered :
"Who is it, Master?"
"It is the one," answered Jesus, "to whom I shall hand this piece of bread, after dipping it in the dish."
Jesus dipped the bread into the dish holding the roasted lamb, and handed it to Judas Iscariot. At that moment the spirit of evil went fully into the heart of Judas. Jesus said to him:
"What you are going to do, do at once."
But no one at the table understood what these words meant. As Judas kept the purse for the company, they thought that Jesus was telling him to buy some things for the feast, or perhaps to give some money to the poor. After taking the piece of bread, Judas at once went out into the night.