1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart form this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, but you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
We have been going over the Gospel of John and we are nearing to the end. What I have been sharing throughout this series is the importance of the very first verse of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This very verse i the thesis of John’s gospel, where the Word (Jesus), his origin, relationship, and identity isconstantly being revealed and witnessed by both the characters within and by us, the readers outside.
Before, I used the metaphor of Trinity to explain this triad of origin, relationship, and identity. Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — explains who our God is. We believe in one God who is one in essence, but three in persons. The three have this intimate relationship of love and harmony, just as they are one — constantly giving and receiving between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; constantly pouring the cup of the other two, constantly passing the plate to the other two, constantly sharing in the life of the other two. The early church fathers had a word to describe this intimate relationship of love and harmony: perichoresis. Peri means “around,” and chorein, means “to give away” or “to make room.” Together, the word perichoresis means “rotation” or “to go around.” This is a word that describes a certian dance, where three persons lock their hands together and spin and spin around, to the point where the interlocking of the three becomes a blur and starts looking like one beautiful pattern of motion. When the early church fathers looked at this dance, they said, “That’s what the Trinity is like!”¹
Now, I’m sharing the image of Trinity to make a point that it is a package of three in one. If you know Jesus, you also know the Father and the Holy Spirit. You can’t just choose one out of the three. It is a package deal.
And this is how the triad of origin, relationship, and identity works aswell. It is a three-in-one package deal. If you know Jesus’ origin, you also know his relationship and identity. You can’t just accept one and deny the rest.
To believe in Jesus means to know in the triad of Jesus' origin, relationship, and identity. And believing in Jesus means also participating in his origin, relationship, and identity which changes or ownorigin, relationship, and identity a well. We become God’speople, created in the image of God, having this intimate relationship with Godand with one another. Again, it is a three-in-one package deal and one big beautiful dance of the three.
To know that we are God’s people means to live in this intimate relationship. To know that we are created in the image of God means that we are God’s people. And to know that we have this relationship with God and one another means that we are God’s people created in the image of God.
In short, to believe in Jesus means to abide in this dwelling place of origin, relationship, and identity.
And I think the most common mistake we make as people is that we do not fully understand this gift of three-in-one. We tend to just settle with one and neglect the other two. Or, we tend to focus on one so much that we forget see the others.
For some, we acknowledge that everyone has sacred worth and everyone is loved by God; but then, we ignore and deny the fact that we are also called to live in this intimate relationship with God and with others. For some, we hold dear to our personal relationship with Jesus and getting to heaven, but then we forget the fact that this relationship should also extend to loving our neighbors who are just as precious as we are as the beloved children of God. For some, we love the idea that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but what we decide on our own terms what we can and cannot do instead of discerning God's call for all of us, for God's community.
Now in today’s story from John 13, we hear about Peter who makes this exact mistake. While having a meal, Jesus showcases the most perfect example of love. Now this is happening near his impending death on the cross, so he knows what is going on and what is going to happenand who is going to betray him to make that happen. But, nonetheless, he loves all his disciples to the end. So, he invites them all to the table as a host and also as a servant.
In Jesus’ times, one major act of hospitality in the context of a meal was this practice of foot washing. Thehost offered water to the guests, so they could clean their dusty feet fromtheir journey. It was a way of the host welcoming one’s guests. And usually, the guests would wash their feet on their own, or by servants by the order of the host.
But in today’s story, Jesus does it quite differently. Not only does Jesus play the role of a host, but also the role of a servant. Not only does he welcome them, but he also serves them — doing both at the same time. The one who is called Teacher and Lord takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself, pours water into a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet and wipes them with the towel that is tied around him.
Feet are what makes our journeys possible. They carry the weight of our journeys’ burden. We stand, we walk, we run, we travel thanks to our feet. Especiallyback in Jesus’ times, scandals were the most common footwear and walking wasprobably the most common form of transportation. And it almost looks like Jesusis honoring his disciples’ journeys so far by washing their feet and anointingtheir new journey forward by wiping their feet. It’s truly a beautiful expressionof love.
But, whether back then or even in today’s context, this is probably one of the most uncomfortable things one can experience. Imagine our boss, our teacher, our mentor, our parent, or even our pastor getting on their knees to wash our bare feet. Not only my dusty feet are being revealed and being touched, but also how stinky my feet smell is exposed. Feet are also sometimes ugly and sometimes too sensitive to be touched. Simply put, our feet are weird and most of the times, we want to keep our weirdness to ourselves.
So, Peter interjects.
He asks, “Lord, are you going towash my feet?”
Jesus answers, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Peter says to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
And Jesus answers, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
To have a share with Jesus is tohave fellowship with him, to participate fully in his life. What does this mean? It means that our own origin, relationship, and identity reflects Jesus’s, that we become God’s people, created in the image of God, and having this intimate relationship with God and with one another. And this intimate relationship is marked by love and harmony — constantly giving and receiving between one another; not only hosting, but also serving; and not only serving, but also being served.
In short, to have share with Jesus means to be part of the dwelling place where our origin, relationship, andidentity be altered.
Upon hearing this, Peter quickly changes his request, “Lord, not my feet only but also myhands and my head!”
Peter only saw only one side ofthe three-in-one package. He saw the value of the foot washing only in his identity being changed, him becoming clean before the sight of God. So, Peter is tryingto get all his body parts washed. But here, Peter was missing the point just like many others who were interested in Jesus’ signs so much that they forgot to see the big picture.
The value of the foot washing Peterhas failed to see was an opportunity for his relationship with Jesus tobe even more intimate. The purpose of the foot washing was not because Jesus wanted to thoroughly wash his disciples feet, both literally and metaphorically. That wasn’t the point. Rather, Jesus wanted to express his love for them, to communicate them how much he loved them to the point he would die for them.
The value of the foot washing Peter has failed to acknowledge is related to Jesus' origin, why Jesus came to them in the first place which in turn becomes our "origin," why we are in this world. God so loved the world. Jesus explains it to his disciples,
“Do you know what I have done to you? 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.”
God so loved the world that his Son Jesus came to teach us how to love one another by loving us first. Jesus later reinforces this teaching (vv. 34-35):
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I believe this dwelling place is what the church ought to be. Not only a place or space we talk about Jesus’ love, but let it mold our origin, identity, and relationship, where we have this intimate relationship with God and with one another — constantly giving and receiving, constantly serving and being served, constantly reciprocating God’s love.
And when we do, our dwelling place is going to look a lot like this beautiful dance of perichoresis, looking like one beautiful pattern of motion. And my prayer for this church Commonwealth Fairfax is this: to dance together here in Fairfax and Northern Virginia in the most beautiful way. Let us pray.
This post is an adapted excerpt from Minoo Kim's sermon from 2/17/2020.
¹ Jonathan Marlowe.