Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”[. . .]
As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:1–17, 31–35 NLT)
It is not enough to simply say we love one another. There must also be actions that accompany these pronouncements. The vows of affection spoken by bride and groom at the altar are meaningless if they are not followed up by actions that prove their sincerity in the days, months, and years to follow.
Jesus tells his disciples they must love one another as he has loved them, not just in words but in deeds. They do not yet know the full extent Jesus will soon go to show how vast his love for them is, but the disciples do know what this love looks like because it was just on full display when Jesus took the time to wash their feet. Even so, they didn’t quite understand it, as evidenced by Peter’s response. Despite spending years following after Jesus and listening to sermon after sermon – even getting semi-private lessons on the meaning behind some of his parables – and being witness to who Jesus is at a level unknown to almost everyone else, Peter still misunderstood Jesus’s actions and the love that drove them.
Because all of us are subject to our own limited perspectives and sin-soaked experiences, even our love-inspired actions toward our neighbors can be misconstrued and misunderstood, and our intentions of showing love, as pure and noble as they may be, don’t always result in actually loving them. Again, look at Peter, this time in the Garden of Gethsemane when he cuts off the ear of a man in an effort to show his devotion to Jesus; this action, though driven by Peter’s love for Jesus, was misguided and was ultimately not helpful. This is why we must proclaim love in both word and deed, but with hearts of humility to acknowledge even our best attempts fall short of the glory of God.
Have you let love – fueled and guided by the Holy Spirit – guide your words and actions lately? In what ways can you improve?