Chapter 13 begins the second half of the Gospel of John, and the first chapter of what is known as Jesus’ farewell discourse. As the Feast of the Passover approaches, Jesus knows that His time with the twelve is short. This was a time and a land where people would walk very long distances on sandy, dusty, and often considerably unsanitary roads wearing sandals. It was the custom then for people to arrange ahead of time to have water available for the washing of the feet of their guests. Washing the feet of another person was the work of servants. So when Jesus began washing their feet, Peter at first objected. But Jesus told him “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” They do understand His humbleness because He has been teaching them for a long time, but they will not fully understand this act until after His crucifixion. But He does want them to think about it – so they will recall that it was important to Jesus.
In verse 12, when He had finished, He said ““Do you understand what I have done to you?” There would be no point to that question unless there was a deeper meaning to what was done. That meaning is in verse 16 (“a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”). He is their teacher and He is the one who is “sending” them into the world. He did this to serve them. They should serve each other according to their needs. The words from verse 16 will be repeated to them in John 15:20, and they have already heard them in Matthew 10:24. On both of those occasions, it was to tell them to expect to be treated as He was by others. Here, it is to teach them to serve others.
Then Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him. In verse 27, when He tells Judas to do it quickly, the others still do not realize what is taking place. He then gives them their “new commandment” in verses 34-35 to love each other as He has loved them, as He takes this opportunity to say goodbye for now. Peter, still not understanding, declares that he will lay down his life for him. But Jesus breaks the terrible news to him that he will deny Jesus three times.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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