Friday, March 1, 2013

Playing Footsie

While Jesus was reclining at a table, an unnamed woman, who may have been Jesus' beloved friend Mary, opened her alabaster jar of nard perfume, and poured it on Jesus' head, or maybe on His feet, and then possibly wiped His feet with her hair. It appears that sometimes the truth is not clear.

Relatively speaking and dependent on the Gospel you follow, after that anointing, Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, met with the Chief Priests, conspiring to provide his help in arresting Jesus. This initiated the chain of events which would end with a life crossed out.

However, before that end, observances had to be made. In the practice of the Passover holiday, it was time for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. According to Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, and Luke 22:7-13, Jesus had His Disciples prepare arrangements for the feast in Jerusalem with a man carrying a jar of water. Possibly just a coincidence, but maybe not, a man carrying a jar of water is the Astrological sign for Aquarius. The Gospel of John does not mention these preparations, but still provides a rather memorable dinner scene anyway...

Playing Footsie
No matter what skeptics might say against religion, unless they are dishonest or blinded by their own dogma, they can not deny that some amount of "good" often comes associated with religion. That is not to say that that "good" only comes from religion, but rather that "good" is often promoted by it. Christians, at least the good ones, strive not only follow the instructions given by God, but also the example set by Jesus Himself, such as in the episode of Jesus washing His Disciples' feet.

The tale is found in in John 13:3-17, and, as is seemingly typical with John, there are some oddities and nuanced confusions found in its words. The strangeness starts in the beginning. In John 13:3 we read:
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; NIV
The content itself is not strange. That Jesus came from God and was going back to Him is a theme John often repeated. But what is strange here is that John has recorded Jesus' thought process. We cannot rightfully (at least in this instance) fault John with completely making this up, as it all comes from what Jesus had said earlier in John's Gospel, so Jesus obviously would have known these things. However, to record these words as though those were Jesus' thoughts at the time just seems a little disingenuous because it is not something that could have been witnessed.

Anyway, because He had these thoughts in mind, Jesus got up and started washing His Disciples' feet (John 13:4-5). For those Disciples, you can just imagine how profound this would have been. Jesus, the Son of God, part of God, and the creator of all things (John 1:1-3), was stooping down in one of the most humble forms of service; foot washing.

Foot washing was a custom of hospitality, but the host would usually have a servant wash the feet of his guests, except in cases of a highly honorable or esteemed guest, where the host may have taken it upon himself to wash the feet of that guest in a show of humble appreciation for their visit. And yet Jesus was performing this service for them.

Simon Peter objected to Jesus humbling Himself on his feet, but Jesus told him that "Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me," to which Simon Peter then asked Jesus to wash him all over (John 13:6-9). So this has turned a little strange too. Unless Jesus washed their feet, they would not be with Jesus anymore? Simon Peter was referring to a literal washing of his feet, but Jesus' reply seems more in line with the metaphorical sense of Jesus washing their sins away. So while it appears that you have a consistent message on the surface, you have actually got an awkward mix of the literal and the metaphorical. With Simon Peter asking for even more washing, it swings back to a literal sense; that it was Jesus' physical washing of them that was giving them a "part with" Him.

Unfortunately, the message does not get any clearer. In John 13:10-11 we read:
Jesus answered [Simon Peter], "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean. NIV
So the first part of Jesus' reply to Simon Peter is essentially "that is not necessary" because only his feet were dirty. This again appears to be a literal message at first. However, it gets complicated by the use of "clean," which is often used to refer to spiritual/ceremonial cleanliness, i.e. clean before God and without the stains of sin. That type of cleanliness (we will use Clean with a capital "C") is confirmed with the implicit reference to Judas being unclean.

Now, you may be thinking that this is just Jesus giving a clever play-on-words here, but that cannot be the case if we take His initial reply to Simon Peter about needing to wash his feet or else he would not be with Jesus. That speaks of Clean, not clean.

Then again, that type of Cleanliness seems awry. As we discussed from an earlier time in the Gospel storyline, Jesus emphasized that it was not physical cleaning that made you Clean, but rather the content of your heart. So this mandatory foot washing stands off as contradicting that message.

Also, it is implied that this foot washing was performed to all of the Disciples, and yet it did nothing to Clean Judas. So you have got an odd case where Jesus is unable to Clean someone.

Classic Bible commenter John Gill suggests that this episode illustrates that Jesus makes you mostly Clean, but that you still need daily "washing" to cleanse away the little sins that crop up here and there. That sounds rather silly. If Jesus could have died a couple thousand years ago to wash away my sins today, I am pretty sure that He could have gotten all the future ones I have yet to commit as well.

Anyway, despite all of this confusion and mixed metaphor messaging, the rest of the story is truly beautiful. In John 13:12-17, Jesus explained to the Disciples that, despite being their Lord, He humbly washed their feet as an example for them to follow for one another. They are certainly not greater than He is, so if He humbled Himself to wash their feet, they have no excuse not to do so for one another.

So this washing really had nothing to do with being Clean. It had everything to do with a message of humility and service towards fellow believers. This makes me wonder if the dialog with Simon Peter was a later addition to the story by another author who was trying to appear more spiritually knowledgeable than he was clever enough to pull off. Or perhaps this is yet another case exhibiting the strange mind of John.

One more thing to note: Given the remarkable juxtaposition of Jesus washing the Disciple's feet, it seems exceedingly odd that none of the other three Gospels record the episode. That circumstantially suggests that this little episode is completely fictitious.

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