John 13 opens the second half of the gospel, what Gary Burge calls “The Book of Glory” (he calls the first half of the book “The Book of Signs”).  While chapters 1-12 show Jesus’ public ministry within Judaism, the rest of the book will focus on Jesus’ private ministry to those who believe.  And this private ministry to His disciples begins with washing the disciples’ feet.

It is the Passover, and as they celebrate the Seder meal that opens the Festival of Unleavened Bread, Jesus changes this tradition in a number of ways.  While the other three gospels (called the “synoptic” gospels due to their similarities) focus on the bread (which Jesus used to point to Himself as the Messiah) and the cup (which Jesus used to identify the new covenant by which His disciples would now live), John ignores these symbols and focuses on the washing of feet.  In the Seder meal, there is a ceremonial hand washing meant to make the participants ceremonially clean and able to participate in this priestly meal.  But Jesus washes instead the disciples feet, making them both ceremonially clean and also teaching them about servanthood.

As Jesus approaches each disciple, including Judas and Peter the betrayers, He takes the traditional role of the servant and washes their feet.  “Go and do likewise” is essentially His message.  To follow Christ is to become the servant of all, even when that means humiliation.  And so the question becomes one of obedience.  Will we go and do likewise?  Will we not only serve others when we are doing ministry, but live lives of servanthood?  What does this look like at work, at home, at school, and in our everyday lives?  More than holding the door for someone, or helping them with a broken down car, will we live the same lives of servanthood that Jesus lived among us?

If you could see Jesus perform His many miracles, do you think you’d have an easier time believing in Him?  If you could walk with Him for a while, hear his teachings, do you think your doubt would simply fade?  According to the biblical record, this is not the case.  Today, we see that most who saw Jesus’ miracles still didn’t believe.

In the time of the prophet Isaiah, a vision came of God and His seraphim in the temple.  Isaiah witnessed it, which by biblical law means he was doomed, for nobody can look on the face of God and live.  But Isaiah was spared and made clean, and went on to give us perhaps the most famous statement of submission in the whole bible: “Here am I, Lord.  Send me.”

But while we regularly hear this much of the story, we seldom continue reading to hear God’s response.  And what we find are the very words Jesus references today.

“Go and tell this people:
‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.
Make the heart of this people calloused make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.'”

And doesn’t this just describe today’s culture, too?  We hear everything (thanks, social media) but understand nothing (thanks, social media).  We see it all but seldom if ever perceive truth.  We are calloused and dull, and far too often, our eyes are closed.

But what if we weren’t?  What if we worked hard to understand what we hear rather than just the old “in one ear and out the other”?  What if we worked to perceive what we saw, whether read or watched?  Might we regain our sensitivity to the Spirit, sharpen our ears and open our eyes to the work of God around us?  Might we see, hear, understand, and finally be healed?