I grew up a cultural Christian. I was born into a Community of Christ family. My grandparents were deeply devoted to the church. My great-grandfather and great-great grandfather served the church for decades generations before. The ideas of God, faith, and finding my testimony were part of my upbringing. I felt God in church, heard incredible testimonies from old church members, and knew many who talked with humble surety about God. I went to reunion every year and had indescribable spiritual experiences at youth camps. Growing up in the church, I came to know the love of God first hand. But, it wasn’t until I studied scripture with others outside my church that I was truly converted to Jesus. Before, I knew Jesus was somehow connected to the Spirit I felt and came to know in the church. But, when I finally studied the scriptures with others different from me, I encountered the Jesus who could save the world. It happened when I read the account of Jesus’ feet washing in John 13.
I was in seminary studying with people who didn’t live the same life as I did. Most, on the surface, were very different from me. There was Anthony, the gifted dancer, who decided to go to seminary and follow his heart and get an M.Div, even though he was slowing dying with HIV. There was Sharon, the electrician, who was streetwise and used to being disrespected because she was poor, black, female, and a lesbian. There was Mary, who was spending four years and thousands of dollars in seminary although her Orthodox church would never ordain her because she was a woman. There was Laura, the Mennonite, who lived in community with my family and I, who taught me incredible generosity. And Gloria, who grew up on the south side of Chicago and knew white people only as authority figures, hopelessly selfish, vindictive, and evil until she was an adult.
Together, we shared devotions, studied the bible, and talked extensively. We read scholars with unpopular perspectives because they lived, ministered, and were members of unpopular communities. We read theologians who considered the bible in its setting: among the poor, among the people who the powerful label, won’t live near, and perennially blame. Reading Jesus’ feet washing in John 13 with Anthony, Sharon, Gloria, Mary and Laura took on brand new meaning for me. It became clear to me that if every leader of the world simply followed Jesus’ example: if they would just sup, bend down, and wash the feet of their friends and enemies, the world would be a radically different place. It would be so different, it wouldn’t be the world it is now. The world would be fundamentally changed in the most radical and transforming way. The world would be upside-down.
Two people stood out to me in John 13. As Jesus washed the feet of Judas, Jesus knew he was going to betray him (John 13:26-27). Was Judas confused? Did he simply misunderstand? Was he Jesus’ enemy? We don’t know. But, he would play the part of Jesus’ adversary. Jesus knew it, and washed and wiped his feet anyway.
Jesus’ interaction with Peter is also deep with meaning. Peter is the most visible and eager of the disciples. But, Peter had no idea what Jesus was doing. He first denied Jesus’ offer to wash his feet. But, Jesus compassionately, yet firmly, gave Peter a choice. Hearing it, Peter responded excessively, “Wash my feet and my hands and head as well!” (John 13:9) But, at the cross Peter would deny him again. (John 13:37-38) Jesus knowingly humbles himself before betrayal and failed loyalty.
Jesus’ feet washing was the culmination of his life and ministry. It was clearest statement of Jesus’ invitation, “Come, follow me.” The gospel of John has no Lord’s supper. This is it. In verse 14, Jesus states “Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” This is what Jesus is asking us to do in John. This is John’s version of “Do this in memory of me.”
Reading John 13 in this new community of Christ – with Laura, Gloria, Sharon, Anthony, Mary, and others – I found the savior the world was seeking. He was the same one we all were seeking. It wasn’t this or that version of Jesus. It wasn’t the Jesus of religion. I found the living Christ in John’s story of Jesus, the one who had the power to change the world and all of history.
What if Jesus led? What would our world be like? The other question is, would we follow?….or rather, will we?