“Hosanna,” they cried. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel,” they shouted. These are the words the crowds called out as the would-be Messiah rolled into town on a donkey. They gathered, stripping off their cloaks to pave the way and laying branches so as to cover the ground. In his gospel account, John is sure to remind us by way of prophecies and reference to the psalms: Jesus is the true king, coming at last to set his people free.
Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom was that God was returning as king to Israel, but not as his contemporaries expected. It’s as if he’s saying, “God’s in charge now – and this is what it looks like!”
Having entered Jerusalem, Jesus’ journey to the cross becomes much more tangible. The days preceding Good Friday are flooded with teaching and the unavoidable reminder that we, like his followers, ought to listen closely – lest we miss what this new reign looks like.
And so as John 13 tells us, Jesus enters the Passover time – the great spring festival at the heart of Jewish life in which the Exodus is celebrated – knowing that his hour to depart had come. With this knowledge, the scriptures tell us that, “knowing he had come from God and was going to God,” Jesus stepped away from the table in order to stoop even lower than the God-man already had. Taking off his outer robe, he lowers himself to the feet of his disciples. With a basin and towel Jesus ignores the disciple’s complaints and again provides for them an example, as if to say: “God’s in charge now – and this is what it look like.”
This is what it looks like when God runs the world, he shows them.
Even those who had been in his presence long before did not understand what he was doing, much less where he was going and why it was so necessary. But in their midst this new king crawled around on the ground, from person to person, demanding that they understand that even the Lord, their teacher, was among them to be a servant of all. They too, says Jesus, must learn what it means to lower themselves on behalf of others.
This all on the day before he would be denied, rejected, crucified. In these hours, he’s cleaning feet!
This is what it looks like when God runs the world.
And in like fashion Jesus gave his disciples, on this profound evening, a new mandate. Turning to them later in conversation, having told them he would be betrayed:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love on 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 have love for one another.”
With a dirty towel still in the room and the murky water pushed aside, Jesus commands that those who follow him be known by love – the kind of love that stoops to the feet of the betrayer and the betrayed, the offended and the offender, the broken, the judged, the marginalized, the abused, and the abuser and says, “This is what it looks like when God runs the world.”
And from his journey to the cross comes the call to every would-be follower of Jesus: to gaze upon the mystery of the God-man washing feet and to wonder anew what it means now to let love radically redefine the lengths we’re willing to go for one another.
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”