Last night, the second lesson during Evening Prayer was from John 13:1-11. Once again, I heard a passage that has impressed itself upon me in recent years, the first three verses of that chapter.
I do not know if these three verses are technically a prologue. I suspect they are not. They are in a different form than the famous Prologue at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel. But these two passages do serve a similar purpose. Both passages are intended to help the reader/hearer to understand the significance of what is to follow, especially to begin to comprehend Jesus in the midst of the events St. John narrates. So I hope I am not far off the mark in considering John 13:1-3 the Prologue of the Passion.
These verses are St. John’s transition into the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And he reminds us emphatically that the Jesus who was about to suffer and die was not another mere man, nor another prophet, nor even another martyr. Nor was he to stumble unawares into what he was about to suffer. “The Father had given all things into his hands, and … he had come from God and was going back to God,” and Jesus knew it. He was the very Son of God who was willingly about to suffer and die for us.
How this passage has most impacted me in recent years is how it serves as an introduction to the most immediate event, the foot washing. Jesus knew he was God, and he knew the agony he was about to suffer. And, yes, he knew Judas Iscariot would betray him into that. Yes, Jesus would wash Judas’ feet, too.
I know if knew I was about to be betrayed into great suffering and death by one sitting with me, the last thing I would be thinking about is washing anybody’s feet, much less his.
But Jesus’ love for his disciples was so great – he “loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” – that he performed this task that is both deeply humbling and deeply significant. The Son of God, who had “all things” in his hands – and was about to take his life into his hands and lay it down for the world – humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples, even of the one who would betray him.
I think this is one reason St. John is very methodical in describing the foot washing, particularly in verses 4 and 5. John is letting the gravity of Jesus’ act of love and humility sink in.
But how can we comprehend this? No matter how much we meditate on these verses and on Jesus Christ Himself so acting as a servant, and that when he was about to suffer, it remains one of those many mysteries of God too wonderful for us to comprehend.
But St. John and the Lord who inspired his words nonetheless desire for us to mediate on this and on the rest of his Passion for our good and for his glory. Let us do so as we conclude Passion Week and enter Holy Week.