12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.….
… 34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
John 13:1-17 CEB
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus spoke about the law of Moses, and famously taught that the entire law hung really on two commands: to love God with everything you are, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Everything Jesus taught up until this point was about living in that kind of love - the love that fulfilled the law. But here, at the last supper, something changes in what He wants the disciples to know, what He wants us to know...about His heart.
It’s subtle, it can almost be completely missed, but it is scandalous because it violates the way that we want God to work. We can handle loving our neighbor as ourself...ok, we really can’t handle it, but at least it sounds reasonable, even if not difficult. We’ll try, and fail, but at least it basically makes sense. But here, Jesus says something altogether NEW - and wild.
“Love one another”...he says…”just as I have loved you.” Suddenly the reference points are all changed. In this new place of love, we aren’t to use ourselves as a measuring stick for what kind of love we to dole out for it’s no longer “love your neighbor” nor “as you love yourself.” It’s a new command with new parameters, and Jesus is getting ready to make the most scandalous display of love the world has ever seen, as He, the embodiment of God, lays down His life for those who have offended Him in order to make God’s enemies into His friends. But before He does so, He acts out His life-giving love by washing His disciples’ feet as an ordinary house servant would do. Except the seeming insanity, of course, is that He is Lord and Master, not a lowly servant. He would have us all understand: “This is what I’m after. I’m your teacher by example, so don’t be ashamed of the scandal of loving each other in lowly ways like I am showing you - for if you obey, it will be the real way people will see Me, in all of you.”
This isn’t the law of Moses. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is still a great thing, but this is one step deeper - into the scandalous ways of a self-sacrificing, self-effacing Lord and God. If we get it, our scandalous imitation of His ways will turn the world upside down with the glory of Christ and His Kingdom.
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Lord, enable me to be a true disciple of yours that learns your ways of love. Help me love my brothers and sisters in the faith particularly well, in the scandalous ways you have prepared for me to love them, in the way You loved your disciples when you served them and the way you have loved Me at the cross. Amen.
Heather authors the blog, "All Things Are Yours" about her explorations in various corners of Christendom. Her motto is "Truth in Tension with Itself" and she considers herself a Charis-mergent believer. She's also a certified biology teacher, and enjoys writing about the Bible and theistic evolution. She is single and looking; please send applications for suitorship attached to a labrador retriever puppy to her address, available upon request.