Questions From Jesus: Do You Know What I Have Done to You?
The First United Presbyterian Church
“Questions from Jesus: Do You Know What I Have Done to You?”
Rev. Amy Morgan
September 15, 2019
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,
4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.
5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."
9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you."
11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?
13 You call me Teacher and Lord-- and you are right, for that is what I am.
14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
What is the gospel? I was in a workshop with a group of pastors, scholars, and theologians at Princeton Seminary, and we were asked this question. Seems like if anybody should have known the answer to this, it would have been someone in that room. But it was silent for a while as people considered the question. We were invited to share a story or a scripture that, for us, illuminated what we felt was truly the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Only one story came to mind for me. It was this one.
Whenever I’ve participated in foot washing, it’s been a powerful and meaningful experience. But there’s also always this awkwardness to it. It begins with people choosing whose feet they are going to wash, and it’s kind of like waiting to get picked for the kick ball team. Then people have to figure out what posture to take as they wash a person’s feet. Do they get down on one knee? But that’s a little too much like you’re going to propose to them. Do you get down on both knees? Some people wonder if they can ever get up again from that position.
Foot washing isn’t ordinary for us. It isn’t a regular part of our daily lives. And so this practice feels awkward, even if the symbolism is so strong that it can elicit powerful emotions.
Only once in my life have I really seen this done right.
On a mission trip to Mexico several years ago, we read this story and were invited to wash one another’s feet during one of our evening devotions early in the trip. We began to sing, and wait for the kickball team selection to begin. I fretted about who would be last. Would someone in the group get overlooked and forgotten? The group had only been together for two days, so would our lack of familiarity make this all the more awkward and forced?
And then a man named Richard stood up, walked to the basin, and picked up the towel. Now, Richard was a newer member of the church and the person who was the least familiar with any of us on this trip. Nobody quite knew what to expect from him. One thing we had learned about Richard was that he had been a world-class power lifter at one time. The youth couldn’t decide if he was Hercules or Chuck Norris.
So Richard takes the damp towel, and we’re all waiting to see who he’s going to pick. Who has he connected with so far on this trip? Who does he want to connect with? Who does he feel safest with? Whose feet does he think are the least disgusting? Because that is typically the reason people want to go first in this practice.
Then Richard walks over to Mari, and kneels on one knee at her feet. Mari is one of the women who cooks all of our meals in Mexico. She was the only one of our Mexican hosts who came up to worship with us that evening. Mari has diabetes among other health concerns. She’s unmarried and helps her mother with the cooking and other work. She longs for relationship, for marriage and children. She loves connecting with the groups who come to the deepest extent our language barriers will allow. I couldn’t see her feet in the darkness, but they were the feet of a woman works on her feet all day, who walks dusty roads into town for supplies. And Richard picked those feet to wash first.
And Richard didn’t just wash her feet. As he delicately caressed and cleansed Mari’s feet – top, bottom, one toe at a time – it was like the love we read about in the Song of Solomon, a love that says, “Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.”
Richard went to the person he knew the least, to the person he couldn’t communicate with in words, to the person on the outside of our little American circle, to the person who was the most different, to the person who would serve us throughout the week. And that is who he chose. And he washed her feet in a way that revealed her beauty to her, and to all of us.
Suddenly, this foot washing was not a ritual. It was a visible act of love. It was a sacrament. It was made holy with love that revealed beauty and value in each human being in that circle.
For me, the good news of the gospel is that we, and eventually the entire creation, are transformed by love. Not because we want to be or try to be transformed. In fact, we often are actively opposed to it. But God in Jesus Christ transforms us, even over our protests and without our understanding.
And no other story or scripture illuminates this good news better than this one from John’s gospel.
The story begins with Jesus knowing that “all things” have been given to him by God. Jesus has it all – the kingdom of God – heaven and earth – the power and glory of God are all in his possession. And so what does he immediately do with all that? He takes “the form of a slave,” as it says in that beautiful hymn in Philippians 2.
Jesus rises from the table and takes off his outer robe. There is a Greek verb used here is also used by John to talk about Jesus laying down his life when, in chapter 10, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Within the heavily symbolic Gospel of John, this connection should not be lost on us.
As Jesus strips down to his undergarments and ties a towel around his waist, he is not just taking on the form of a slave, preparing to do the work of the lowliest servant in the house. He is also exhibiting great vulnerability. His undergarment is like a hospital gown. There is nothing underneath, and there is not much to it. He is exposed in a way that he wasn’t before.
And this exposure, this vulnerability, is purposeful. It is essential, in fact, to what Jesus is about to do in this scene.
Jesus pours water into a basin and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. As we’ll hear later, this is not just a ritual or a symbol. This is a transformational act of unconditional love. We are explicitly told that Judas, his betrayer, is among those whose feet are washed by Jesus. The act does not cleanse Judas of his treacherous intentions. It does something far more dangerous. It draws Judas, and all the other disciples in the room, into the intimate, loving relationship between God and Jesus.
Through the vulnerability Jesus allows, the intimacy he provides, in this act of washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus expands the Trinitarian relationship to make room for everyone, even Judas, to be in full relationship with God and one another and the whole creation. This doesn’t change Judas’ mind or alter what he will do. But it does cause his betrayal to cost him everything.
Peter clearly senses that this is a dangerous undertaking. He at first refuses Jesus’ vulnerability and intimacy. And then wants to make the event something it’s not by demanding a ritual bath.
Finally, Jesus explains. But first, he asks a question: “Do you know what I have done to you?” In Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament, nouns have a characteristic called case. A noun’s case tells us how it is related to the other nouns and verbs around it.
This archaic linguistic side bar does have a point.
Because, in this question from Jesus in John’s gospel, the noun “you” is in what is called the dative case. This case functions to express personal interest or relationship, usually as an indirect object, that person or thing to whom or for whom an action is performed. What this means is that there are many ways we could read this question in Greek. “Do you know what I have done to you?” is only one option. It could also read, “Do you know what I have done for you?” or “with you?” or even “in you?” In the Greek, all of these are possibilities.
I would tend to think that the most logical translation would be “for you.” After all, God has given everything to Jesus, he has all the power in this room, and all the goodness of God, and we know that benevolent, powerful people do things “for” other people.
But, oddly perhaps, most translations make a different choice. Most translations, from the King James to Young’s Literal, translate this dative noun as “to you.” In seminary, we were taught that, when faced with a translation choice, the more difficult translation to interpret was usually the right one to go with. And “to you” is certainly the most difficult of the available options.
We come to church, and pray, and study scripture, and practice our faith because, I think, at least some small part of us hopes Jesus will do something “for us.” Following Jesus will have some reward, now or later. Our lives will be enriched, or our souls will be saved, but either way, Jesus is doing something “for us.”
The idea of Jesus doing something “to us,” on the other hand, is, at best, disconcerting. We are being acted on without our consent or control. We didn’t ask for this. It is being done to us. This sounds more like a punishment than a reward.
And some people, like Judas, might experience it that way.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1960s, as protestors performed “wade ins” at segregated, all-white swimming pools and beaches and were beaten and showered with chemicals by those who opposed them, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood aired an episode featuring two sets of feet in a plastic kiddie pool – one set black and the other white. Mr. Rogers had invited his friend, Officer Clements, to cool his feet in the pool with him.
This was not something Fred Rogers did for his friend, Francois Clements, or for the black community or for the civil rights movement. In that simple act, Fred Rogers did something to the entire country. He made them see that people of different skin colors could not just be friends, but could share intimate and vulnerable spaces. They could have naked feet, and touch the same water.
And when young children all over the nation witnessed this, they could not grow up with quite the same ideas about race as their parents had.
I don’t know what kind of backlash the show received to this simple and yet powerful act of love, but I am certain that at that time it was experienced more as punishment than reward to many in our country. Fred Rogers did something to them.
And Jesus has done something, not just to his first disciples, but to all of us who have experienced a transformational act of God’s unconditional love. Jesus explains to his disciples that he has completely transformed their world view. They have just witnessed their teacher and Lord, a person of great power and authority, serve them like a slave. And so, Jesus says, they ought to wash one another’s feet, follow his example, do to others as he has done to them.
Now, the word translated as “ought to” is not like the word “should.” It’s not like, “this would be a really good idea.” It is more like “you owe me,” or “you have an obligation to.” It’s the same word we find in the Lord’s Prayer for debtor.
What Jesus has done to us is placed us in his debt. We are not just called, asked, or invited to wash one other’s feet. We are obligated to love one another, even our enemies, even those who are about to kill us, with vulnerability, intimacy, and humility.
There is much that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. But at the heart of the gospel, for me, is what Jesus has done to us. Without our asking. Without our help. Without our permission.
This world would be a lot easier to live in if we could just go with the flow. The flow of division and greed. The flow of oppression and conflict.
But we’re obligated, by the love of God in Jesus Christ, to go a different way. A harder way. We’re obligated to love, to do to others what Jesus has done to us.
“Do you know what I have done to you?” If we didn’t before, now we do. Thanks be to God. Amen.