Foot-washing vs. Hand-washing
“Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
Jesus calmly moves the conversation forward. While he was still on his knees, Jesus blew Judas’ cover, but in the most limited and indirect way possible. The reason for exposing Judas in the upper room may have been to assure that there would be no confusion among the disciples later regarding Judas’ spiritual condition. Judas experienced the “object lesson” of cleansing but he was unwilling to receive and believe in Jesus. After Judas left, Jesus reassured the rest of the disciples with these words, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Judas participated fully in an outward relationship with Jesus, but inwardly he refused to enter into true faith and trust in Christ. Judas represents those who participate in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but never enter into a relationship with Christ. They experience the “object lesson” of the atonement but they themselves have not received Christ.
In the Passion narrative, there is one more reference to cleansing that draws our attention. Less than twenty-four hours after Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, he stood before Pilate at the Praetorium. The Roman governor sat on his judge’s seat overlooking a large and angry crowd. The religious leaders had turned public sentiment against Jesus. The crowd was on the verge of riot, and Pilate, adept at mob control, exerted his political skills. Since it was the governor’s custom to release a prisoner during the Passover Festival, he offered the crowd a choice: Jesus Barabbas, the terrorist, or Jesus, the teacher (Matthew 27:16). Persuaded by the scribes and Pharisees, the crowd shouted, “Barabbas!” Turning to Jesus, Pilate asked, “Why? What crime has he committed?” But the crowd shouted all the louder, “Crucify him! crucify him!” It is scandalous that the one who healed the sick, loved the outcast, and the transformed the corrupt, should be sentenced to die by Roman crucifixion. Jesus was chosen to die a hideously cruel death by popular vote.
Pilate called for a basin of water to be brought, and he “washed his hands in front of the crowd.” In a theatrical gesture, he dramatically washed his hands of the whole affair. The work of our hands is a figure of speech signifying human action. The psalmist used the figure as an outward expression of inner purity, when he said, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence” (Psalm 73:13). But in Pilate’s case, the empty gesture covered up the obvious fact that he was shirking his responsibility and ignoring his moral duty. Under Roman law it was his responsibility to adjudicate justice but he gave in to mob rule for the sake of political expediency. Pilate added propaganda to his pantomime, when he said to the hushed crowd, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24).
In your mind’s eye, picture in split frame Jesus on bended knee, washing the disciples’ feet, and Pilate, seated on the judgment seat, washing his hands. The two contrasting pictures symbolize the two types of cleansing available to us. We can receive the cleansing that only God can provide, or we can insist on proclaiming our innocence in the face of our sin. We can receive mercy from God or we can manipulate our conscience for the sake of public relations.
Upper Room Reflection
How is it possible to have full outward participation with Jesus but no inward relationship?
If the role of the disciple is to follow the Lord, do we have what it takes to get on our knees before those we seek to serve and to stand before corrupt, self-serving authorities?
How have you experienced the pressure to follow the crowd?
What is the difference between receiving God’s grace and giving ourselves grace?