What was Jesus thinking when he washed Judas’ feet?
I’m talking about the Judas. Judas the disciple. Judas the “friend.” Judas the “betrayer.”
Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is one of the most powerful scenes in the Bible. It’s an iconic picture used in servant-leader conferences and books. It’s one of the best ways Jesus, the son of God, exemplified His last-will-be-first worldview, providing one of the clearest examples of Jesus’ intentional, gradual, counter-cultural descent of the social ladder.
But today, I’m thinking about one disciple’s feet in particular: Judas. What must’ve went through Jesus mind when he got to Judas’ feet?
Two Sides of the Coin
The relationship dynamics of Jesus and Judas fascinate me. To think, Jesus knew who Judas was and what he was about all the way back when he asked him to follow him, and yet asked him anyway. Jesus ate, trusted and shepherded a man He knew would be instrumental to his future demise.
For a long time I wasn’t sure how to feel about Judas. Was he doing what he was made to do, or did he act out of turn? Was he greedy or did He misunderstand Jesus’ mission so much that he thought handing Jesus over was a good thing? Did God work through him, or in spite of him? Should we despise him, or give him a pass?
I think Judas was way off base, mainly because we of the words Jesus’ use in Luke 22:48: “betrayal.” The original word there, paradidomi basically meant “to deliver” to custody, to be judged, condemned, punished, scourged, tormented, or put to death. Doesn’t sound good.
If that’s not enough, let’s listen in on the private conversation Jesus had with his disciples the night of The Last Supper in Matthew 26:24:
The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he a had not been born. (KJV)
Strong words. Especially coming from Jesus, the second in the Godhead Trinity. Is Jesus excusing this betrayal simply as a part of the mission? I’d say not. Judas wasn’t destined for betrayal, and he definitely wasn’t carrying out God’s orders as some have suggested. Jesus says, there’s a better way. It’d be better if he were not born. Clearly, Jesus would prefer not being betrayed.
But the account in John 13 makes it clear to us that Jesus, despite his knowledge of Judas’ plan, washed his feet anyway.
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
(John 13:1-5, KJV)
Bucket and Towel
Could you do that? I don’t think I could. I was one of those kids who hated to see wrong go unpunished. I was the “other brother” in the Prodigal Son parable, wondering why people get away with breaking the rules or acting irresponsibly. So it’s hard to get inside the head of Jesus when he came to Judas with the bin of water and a towel. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to wash the feet of the man who will, in just mere hours, would betray me with a not-so-innocuous kiss.
It’s a simple, often heard lesson. But hard all the same. Jesus not only asked us to love our enemies, but to serve them as well. Jesus has asked us to extend our love so beyond our personal rights for respect, justice and revenge that we are willing to kiss the hand that would slap our cheek. Isn’t that was Jesus did with Judas? Isn’t also what he did with Peter (who also betrayed Jesus)? Isn’t that what he does for you and for me?
What gets lost in this conversation is that none of the disciples deserved to get their feet washed by Jesus. They were all ragamuffin misfits who missed the point. They would all scatter and hide while Jesus was taken into the hands of “sinful men.” They would all betray him in one way or another. The moment we start to think that Judas’ crime was so much more greater than the other disciples, or even our own, the closer we are to the deceptive idea that somehow we’ve earned Jesus. That we are somehow worthy of the love and sacrifice He’s extended to us.
And that is missing the point.
So who’s the Judas’ in your life? They may be in your own household. You know the people who are trying to keep you back or step in your way. Perhaps it’s time to do for them what Jesus did for his Judas. Perhaps it’s time to serve them. To show Godly love toward them. Judas is one of the most infamous tyrants in history. If the God of the universe can be loving and humble enough to serve him, then maybe there’s something to it. Maybe we should follow suit.
What have you done for your ‘Judas’ lately?
Make a decision to serve them today. Tell us about it!
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