Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Foot Washing Exemplifies The Teaching To Forgive

With regard to trespasses in general, Jesus taught his disciples to forgive those who trespass against them. He said, “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” and, “if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

With regard to the trespass of a brother, Jesus taught his disciples to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15)

When Judas Iscariot trespassed against Jesus by making a covenant to deliver him to the chief priests (Matthew 26:14-16), he gave Jesus an opportunity to give his disciples an example of how they ought to respond to a trespass against them.

In turn, Jesus took advantage of that opportunity and gave them that example.

The Gospel of John narrates in a literal, straight-forward, matter-of-fact manner the response of Jesus to the trespass against him. The narration runs approximately from John 13:1 to John 13:18, and it depicts Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, stating to them that one of them is not clean, associating the uncleanness with a part of the foot, and declaring to them that he has given them an example.

The development of the strategy of the foot washing and the success of carrying out that strategy are testaments to the genius and the godliness of Jesus.

Unfortunately for readers of the matter-of-fact account of the foot washing, the meaning of the action is not stated explicitly so that they are put into a position like that of the Jews whom Jesus taught in parables and withheld an explanation of his parables. (Matthew 13:10-11)

The problem arises in understanding the foot washing because the action is symbolic and the words are equivocal. Jesus concealed the meaning of the foot washing from all but Judas in order to meet the condition, “between thee and him alone,” as mentioned above.

Jesus didn't explain to his disciples what he had done to them. Instead, he declared that he had given them an example. The knowledge of the identity of what he exemplified, as he told Peter, would be disclosed at an unspecified time, “hereafter.”

Since the only uncleanness that Jesus identified among the disciples was that of the one who should deliver him up (Jesus withheld this information from his disciples, but the evangelist gives it to us), if that uncleanness remained after the washing, then the washing, in and of itself, had no value. In that case, since a foot washing was the task of a humble servant, perhaps Jesus exemplified humble service, or at least the supposed humility (it seems to me that the supposition itself is a display of arrogance) that such service requires of one.

But if what Jesus washed was clean afterward, then the foot washing had value as a washing, and that value was the removal of an offense, or, in other words, a forgiveness of a trespass. In that case, the foot washing symbolized the forgiveness of Judas for his trespass against Jesus, and it exemplified for the disciples of Jesus that, just as Jesus forgave the one who trespassed against him, so should they forgive the trespasses of one another.

Still, I offer these words only in my own name.

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