What’s it all about? This question is sometimes asked of these 3 chapters in John – 14, 15 and 16 – which are called the Farewell Discourse. What’s it all about? Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the last supper? What’s it all about? Jesus going to crucifixion, death, burial and then resurrection. What’s it all about? Let’s start here:
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end… Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe and tied a robe around himself. 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…”
This amazingly shocking incident occurs during the last meal that Jesus shares with his disciples and this act of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples demonstrates unconditional love in a way the disciples have never, ever experienced before. It also demonstrates to us an overwhelming love and commitment to us by God that is really beyond our comprehension. Jesus does not pick and choose – he doesn’t refuse to wash the feet of Judas because he knows that Judas will betray him a couple hours later; he doesn’t tell Peter that he’ll only rinse his feet and not wash them because Peter is going to deny him in the next 24 hours. There is no judging here – there is only love - the unconditional love of God which flows through Jesus to us and then through us to the world that God loves so incredibly much!
This then is what Jesus is trying to help his disciples of all times and places see as he comments on his act of love – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And all that follows these words is Jesus trying in different ways to make the same point – to help his disciples to see – to see what? That God’s love and grace are abundant and plentiful and unconditional and God offers them to us all. It seems so simple, but it is so hard for us. Loving one another is hard. Jesus’ original disciples didn’t want to do it and we don’t either. We want to put all kinds of qualifications and conditions on our love – and by extension, God’s love. How often do we hear all kinds of people who claim to be Christians speaking words of judgment and hate and then claiming that they speak for God. How often do we, Christians, put people in this or that category and deny God’s love and our love to them on the basis of some difference between us and them? Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Will they?
You know I don’t know much about botany but I do know this. That every plant, every vine, has roots which root themselves into the soil from which they process and distribute water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. The stalk, or the vine then is the conduit of this source of life for the plants or the vine. The leaves then sprout, grow and flourish only because they are attached to the stalk or the vine. If you pull the leaves off of a vine or a plant they will shrivel up and die. They cannot survive apart from the vine. Everyone knows this. This is why Jesus uses this image – he is the vine and we are the branches and the leaves. And God is the farmer who planted the vine in the first place and then loves and cares for it and wants to see it flourish. God’s love and grace then flow through Jesus to us and through us to others just like water and nutrients flow through the vine to the branches and the leaves. If we pull ourselves off of the vine we will shrivel and die. It is God’s love and grace that sustains us and helps us grow and flourish. This should say something to us about our way of living then and the place of God’s love and grace in our lives and relationships.
But there is more to it than that. We are not only then to “live a life of love” as Christ loved us, but we are to “Abide,” to “remain,” to “root” ourselves in this love and grace of God’s. This word “Abide” is one of the Gospel writer John’s favorite words. It appears throughout the Gospel. Jesus is constantly calling for his beloved disciples to “Abide,” that is, to root themselves in God love and grace that flows through Christ. And this call is to us as well. We are also to “Abide” in Jesus, “Abide” in God’s love and to make love a lifestyle, a way of being in the world and a way of relating to others.
What does this then mean? It means a lot of things which include that it means it is not up to us to judge; it is not up to us to determine who is in and who is out, who is deserving of God’s love and who isn’t. It means that we are to always, ALWAYS, give people the benefit of the doubt – the default is love – not suspicion, not judgment, not fear. It means we are to do everything we can to help those who are in need; to find ways of providing support, to stand up for justice, to oppose absolutely any form of racism and discrimination of any kind. Abiding in God’s love means that God’s love and grace are the bottom line for us and that they provide the foundation for all of our priorities, our way of living in the world and our way of relating to others.
This was not easy for the disciples and it is not easy for us. And the major reason is that too often we allow ourselves to be led and rooted not in God’s love but in fear; in the fear of the different, the fear of the unknown. The fears that infect us and grow and can paralyze us. It is this fear that led Judas to betray Jesus; fear that led the officials to crucify Jesus and this fear continues to infect us and paralyze us and it leads to a host of evils – as Master Yoda from Star Wars says” Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
What Jesus offers us instead is the love of God; a love that calls for us to abide, to root ourselves and to allow this love of God’s to flow through us freely. And, Jesus tells us further that this gift will lead us to something else – and that something else is Joy! There is something in the original language here that is remarkable. The Greek word that is used to describe God’s unconditional, amazing love is the word “Charis” and this word is usually translated as “Grace.” But the word for joy is the Greek word “Chara.” Do you see the connection? Charis/Chara – Grace/Joy – they are essentially two sides of the same coin perhaps. When we experience Grace we experience Joy – when we offer others God’s Grace, when we live rooted in God’s Grace – it brings with it the gift of Joy.
God’s love – God’s unconditional, overwhelming love – God’s unconditional, overwhelming Grace is for us as we Abide, as we are rooted in God through Jesus. And as we live lives that reflect this gift of God’s love and grace we are given the gift of joy. And this is the message that Jesus gives to his disciples and to us, and wants us to remember as he then moves towards the crucifixion and resurrection.
It is all about love! And if your faith is not all about love, then you have missed the point! Because faith in Christ is all about love!