John 13:1-17, 31b-35


Fortunately, this passage actually has TWO new commandments: 1) Love one another as I have loved you. And, 2) Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Christ-like-love is the goal. Forgiveness is the salve that heals brokenness and makes love possible once again.

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Holy Thursday / Maundy Thursday

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 13:1-17, 31b-35, The Message   or   John 13:1-17, 31b-35, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

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Chapters 13 to 19 are devoted to the "hour" that has now come after 3 years of Jesus' ministry that John covers in Chapters 2 to 12.

This "hour" is actually the final day of Jesus' life, beginning with this meal and ending with his being "lifted up" on the cross.

In the first 12 Chapters, the stress had been on:

  • God's attachment, commitment, and loyalty to Israel. (As, for example, John 3:16. Note that in John, "the world" means "Israel" and its people scattered throughout the Mediterranean area.)
  • The attachment, loyalty, and commitment of Jesus to his disciples and theirs to him. (Or more often actually their failure to understand and therefore to show their proper attachment, loyalty, and commitment to Jesus.)

Beginning with this Chapter and continuing throughout this section, the emphasis will be on:

  • The attachment, commitment, and loyalty that the disciples must show for one another. "Love one another as I have loved you."

And note that wherever the word, "love," appears in John, it is best understood as "attachment, commitment, and loyalty." The state of "love" may include inner feelings of affection, liking, attraction, etc., but these are not the primary meaning in the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus.

So, for example, "Love your enemies," does NOT mean "Like your enemies." Perhaps even more troubling, it means:

Be committed to the well-being of your enemies; and think, speak, and act in ways that promote their well-being.

And so John is quick to add that Jesus' departure in not an ending of Jesus' commitment to his followers. "Jesus loves them completely, finally, forever." (Malina and Rohrbaugh, page 219)

And note also that whereas John sometimes uses "vertical" language to describe Jesus "ascending to" or "descending from" the Father, here he uses "horizontal" language of "departing" - "coming" and "going."

Whereas the vertical axis is about power, status and honour, the horizontal axis is "a natural symbol of the interpersonal. This dimension indicates that the emphasis in chapters 13-17 is on the interpersonal in terms of solidarity, loyalty, belonging, and mutual commitment." (Malina and Rohrbaugh, page 219)

Verse 2. Identifying Judas as a "betrayer" right at the outset of this Chapter is a sharp counter-point to Jesus' teachings and actions that are to follow. "Betrayal" is, of course, the opposite of attachment, commitment, and loyalty, the opposite of love.

Verses 3 to 10, Foot Washing.

The prophetic action by Jesus of washing his disciples feet operates at two levels: the customary or "every-day" experience, and the symbolic, teaching of divine revelation and meaning.

It was the customary, every-day practice of a host to have a slave wash the feet of his guests upon their arrival. This was necessary because streets served as sewers and one could not walk without one's sandals and feet being covered with human and animal waste. Thus, while a guest would bathe before setting out, their feet would need to be washed upon arrival.

At the symbolic level, "feet" represent the zone of purposeful action. As Malina and Rohrbaugh explain (page 220, 223):

Mediterranean persons thought (of the human person) in terms of ... "three zones of interaction." ... The feet serve as a reference for the zone of purposeful action, the zone of behavior and activity. To wash the feet in such a symbolic way points to washing away the effects of one's actions, hence, forgiveness of "trespasses" or "transgressions."

Jesus' washing the feet means that he forgives his disciples their "offenses" against him, even forthcoming ones.

Here the foot washing is a parting gesture performed by Jesus and urged upon his disciples:

they must forgive one another as he forgives them.

As usual, it is impetuous Simon Peter who misunderstands and over-reacts.

His comment, "You will never wash my feet," is a proper objection at the customary understanding of foot washing - Jesus is acting like a slave to Peter - and Peter will have none of that.

Jesus correctly points out that Peter does not understand what he is doing now, but that later he will - in Chapter 21.

Still misunderstanding that foot washing is a sign of "forgiveness and the group solidarity it creates" (Malina and Rohrbaugh, page 221) - "you have no share with me" - Peter asks to be completely bathed - an overstatement of his loyalty to Jesus.

Again, Jesus corrects Peter. "One who has bathed," that is, all of us here, as everyone always bathes before coming to a meal.

Jesus' statement, "You all are clean, though not all of you," could be read as, "You all are forgiven, healed, reconciled to me, and fully restored within this community; though not all of you." So that once again, Jesus' teachings and actions about attachment, commitment and loyalty are sharply contrasted with Judas' betrayal - with Judas' reversal of these values.

Verses 12 to 17, If My Master Has Acted As A Slave To Me, How Must I Act Toward Others?

Jesus then uses the social customs of the day to reverse them for his disciples.

His line of argument basically goes like this:

  • I am your Teacher and Lord.
  • That means you will follow my teachings and example - you will not put yourself above me.
  • I have acted as a servant to you. I have washed your feet. I have forgiven you.
  • So you will now do as I did: Act as a servant to each other. Wash each others' feet. Forgive each other.

Notice how the phrase, "So if I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" is echoed later in the phrase, "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (John 13:34)

Verses 31 and 32, Glory.

"Now" means "this hour," that is, in this moment and all of the events leading to Jesus being finally "lifted up" on the cross.

In this context, to be glorified is to be publicly honoured, to have one's worth publicly acclaimed. Jesus and God are about to be glorified as the execution of Jesus by the Romans will be seen to be not his shameful defeat, but through the cross and Jesus' resurrection will be seen to be God's vindication of Jesus and the power of God to over-turn the unjust, violent, judgment of Rome and the Judean authorities.

This is not the usual way to get glorified. But then what do you expect from a Master who just washed his disciples feet?

Verses 33 to 35, Without Jesus, how will others be able to tell that we are his disciples?

Knowing that his "little children" are going to be like sheep without their shepherd, Jesus begins to teach his followers that they must transfer their love for him to one another.

Or even more to the point. They should NOT love each other as they have loved him.

Rather, they should love each other as HE has loved them.

Ouch. It would be a lot easier loving each other as we love Jesus, which is not very well at all.

But that would be putting ourselves above Jesus. It would be letting our behaviour be the norm instead of letting Jesus' behaviour set the standard; letting Jesus set the example.

Fortunately, this passage actually has TWO new commandments:

  1. Love one another as I have loved you. And
  2. Forgive one another as I have forgiven you.

Christ-like-love is the goal. Forgiveness is the salve that heals brokenness and makes love possible once again.

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 75-77, 86-88, 218-226, and 228; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (NRSV)

   1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 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. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 

   31 (Omit: "When he had gone out,") Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (The Message)

   1 Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. 2 It was suppertime. The Devil by now had Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, firmly in his grip, all set for the betrayal. 

   3 Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. 4 So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. 6 When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, "Master, you wash my feet?" 

   7 Jesus answered, "You don't understand now what I'm doing, but it will be clear enough to you later." 

   8 Peter persisted, "You're not going to wash my feet—ever!"

     Jesus said, "If I don't wash you, you can't be part of what I'm doing." 

   9 "Master!" said Peter. "Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!" 

   10 Jesus said, "If you've had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you're clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you're clean. But not every one of you." 11 (He knew who was betraying him. That's why he said, "Not every one of you.") 12 After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table.

     Then he said, "Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You address me as 'Teacher' and 'Master,' and rightly so. That is what I am. 14 So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet. 15 I've laid down a pattern for you. What I've done, you do. 16 I'm only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn't give orders to the employer. 17 If you understand what I'm telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life. 

   31 (Omit: "When he had left,") Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man is seen for who he is, and God seen for who he is in him. The moment God is seen in him, 32 God's glory will be on display. In glorifying him, he himself is glorified—glory all around! 

   33 "Children, I am with you for only a short time longer. You are going to look high and low for me. But just as I told the Jews, I'm telling you: 'Where I go, you are not able to come.' 

   34 "Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. 35 This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other."

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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