And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel 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.
Lord Acton is famous for the adage: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sadly, we observe the nature of power to corrupt and to be used for self-advantage and self-promotion. The news is filled daily with stories of people corrupted by power. We are rightly concerned about any human gaining power over us, especially absolute power.
And yet, there is a sense in which Lord Acton’s adage is also wrong. That is because the only person who has ever possessed truly absolute power exercises that power not for His own sake, but for ours. That one person possessing absolute, incorruptible power is Jesus Christ, into whose hands “the Father had given all things”.
Notice that on this night before Jesus goes to the cross, He will go not as a helpless victim, but as one in firm command over “all things”. All the players in the crucifixion, Judas, Governor Pilate, Roman soldiers, and a jeering mob, are but bit players acting under Jesus’ supreme authority. Confident in the knowledge that “he had come from God”, and “was going to God”, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, even the feet of the one who will betray Him. Here absolute power stoops to serve and to do whatever needs to be done.
This absolute power displayed in the humble washing of feet is a picture of Jesus’ humble service on the cross. This foot washing is an “acted parable of the Lord’s humiliation unto death” (George Beasely-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary on John). As Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem to die, he explained that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Earlier in the Gospel story, Jesus says that He does “only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). This means that Jesus’ washing His disciples’ dirty feet is a revelation of what the Father is like. It is a revelation of the Father’s humble heart to ever to pour Himself out, so that we might forever share in His life and glory.
What are there in Jesus’ actions today to know; to feel; to do?