It’s amazing what love can do.
Knowing that his hour has come, knowing that he is going to be arrested and crucified, knowing one will betray him, one will deny him, and all will run from him, knowing all this—Jesus does something amazing! Jesus chooses to spend his last night before dying on the cross with this group of people. Jesus chooses to serve them, to wash their feet, and feed them a meal. Jesus chooses to love them.
Jesus gets down on his hands and knees to pick up 24 dirty, sweaty, stinky feet. He holds the feet of Peter who denies knowing him not once, but three times. He washes the feet of Thomas, who will doubt his resurrection. Jesus washes all of their feet. He washes the feet of the ones who will run in the opposite direction with Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. This in an act of love and service. And not only that, Jesus also hosts and serves a meal to this same group of imperfect people. We even hear very specifically that Jesus breaks bread, dips it in the dish, and then serves it to his betrayer, Judas.
What does it take to wash feet and share a meal with people who are going to disappoint you and desert you? Why would you wash feet and share a meal with people who are going to disappoint you and desert you? The answer is simple: LOVE. In fact, this is the last lesson Jesus gives to his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
This is how Jesus lived his life, not just the night before his crucifixion. Jesus was always welcoming, including, healing, and eating with people that others hated and excluded. Jesus was found with the prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. Jesus welcomed those who were considered outsiders, people like the Syrophoenician, the Samaritan, and so many more. Why? Because God loves this whole world (John 3:16).
Jesus’ disciples might not have realized or understood this kind of love while Jesus walked among them, but after Jesus ’resurrection and ascension, and as the Holy Spirit lead them, the disciples begin to discover and live out how love welcomes and includes people. Peter baptizes a Roman soldier and his family. Remember... Roman soldiers crucified Jesus. Roman soldiers were part of the reason the disciples locked themselves in the upper room after Jesus died. Roman soldiers were still persecuting Christians. But Peter extends love to the soldier through the sacrament of baptism.
Perhaps one of the hardest lessons of God’s love for the early Christian church was to love, welcome, and include Gentiles. Gentiles were not circumcised. Gentiles did not follow all the dietary laws and rules of God’s people. For us today, it’s hard to understand just how radical it was, welcoming and including Gentiles. Circumcision and dietary laws distinguished God’s people for centuries. They weren’t simply lifestyle choices. And welcoming Gentiles was simply welcoming outsiders. Gentiles and the lives they lead throughout the ages were considered in the wrong, breakers of God’s laws, unclean, morally unfit. But centuries of what they had judged as right and wrong, clean and unclean, and sinful was shifting because of the work of the Holy Spirit and the love of God that was reaching out to include others.
God’s love is generous. God’s love is wide. God’s love transcends us and crumbles barriers and differences between people. God’s love is not about simply accepting or tolerating. God’s love is a place at the table for everyone. God’s love is washing the feet of others, even the one we don’t think deserves to be there.
Who are the people we and others purposely exclude? Who are the people we and others neglect to include? Who do we and others talk about in a hateful way? Who are the people in the wrong or that we and others judge, find disgusting, and/or immoral? Jesus would show all of these people love. Jesus would welcome all these people. And Jesus invites us to follow his way of love.
The future God wants for us: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Living the love of Christ we too will see the amazing things love can do.