We are studying John 13:1-35 for Sunday, November 1 – when we FALL BACK, in our neck of the woods to Eastern Standard Time, don’t forget! [Some belated notes on the text are here.] Here are a few questions we might want to consider in our study or discussion of the text:
It seems like we ought to think about our experience(s) with this text, and with hearing it in church, or participating in liturgy based on it. For instance, have we ever been part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in any way? How did that come about, and what did it mean in context? How was that for us? Thinking about and talking through those experiences may be illuminating.
[For instance, we had an actual foot washing service one time, at our little church, and as I recall most of the then-Session members had their feet washed, by the then-pastor, and considering everything that was going on then, the whole situation was beyond emotionally “complicated.” What lessons were learned during that particular liturgical work? I for one learned that I have a really hard time taking off my shoes AND SOCKS in church.]
This brings up the whole issue of feet, too, and how we feel about our feet. This, too, is probably worth thinking about for a bit. Feet are fraught. Also, foundational. How we feel and think about our feet will likely have some impact on how we read this scripture, whether we are aware of it or not, so let’s be aware of it.
The text tells us that a number of things Jesus knows – that his hour to leave the world had come, that he had come from God and was going to God, that God had “put all things” into his hands, that Judas was about to betray him – lead up to his demonstration of washing the disciples’ feet. What does that tell us about the meaning of Jesus’s demonstration? What ideas does it give us about what might be going on there?
[We might need unpack some of the implications of that knowledge that Jesus has, and how those implications might lead him to do what he does.]
How do we understand Simon Peter’s initial refusal to have Jesus wash his feet? What do we think he is saying, or feeling? What does this tell us about Simon Peter, do we think?
[More personal] Do we feel some sympathy with Simon Peter, like we understand exactly how he feels, or exactly what must be going through his mind? What is this telling us about ourselves, do we think? How do we feel about that?
[Also more personal] Have we ever washed someone else’s feet – literally, I mean? Whose? What did that activity of washing someone’s feet mean, in that context? Does that context help us understand what is going on in Jesus’s context, do we think? How? Why?
One way of reading this part of the gospel of John is as instructions for us – that is, we contemporary Christians commonly identify ourselves as “disciples” of Jesus, and understand Jesus’s instructions to the disciples around the table in this text as instructions to us.
One line of questioning around this might be: how literally are we supposed to take this? Does this mean that periodically we need to actually take off our shoes and socks and wash each others’ literal, physical feet? If not, why not?
A different line of questioning would be: so, what does this mean, specifically, concretely, for everyday life? What does it include? What does it not necessarily include? [On this one, no fair answering in abstract church language, as in “we need to love our neighbors as ourselves.” I think we need to push ourselves to answer in ordinary behavioral language, as in “it means picking up some groceries on my way home to drop off at so-and-so’s house” – or whatever, but something as concrete as that.]
[A lot more personal] How are we doing, do we think? When was the last time we washed someone’s feet – literally, or figuratively but concretely? When will we, next, do we think? How do we feel about that?