52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #25. Washing Judas’ Feet
by Travis Bookout
Judas Was There…
The story of Jesus washing His disciple’s feet is a magnificent look into Jesus’ whole worldview. It is a tremendous picture of what His ministry was all about. It’s a glimpse of the humility and love that ultimate takes Him to the cross. It’s a call and challenge to each of His disciples to lay down pride, status, and social hierarchies and submissively and humbly love. Love with kindness. Love with service. Love with action. “Love one another, even as I have love you” (John 13:34).
But even more than that, it is a call to love and serve all. Even the sinful. The greedy. The unlovable. Those who have mistreated you. Or will mistreat you. Love even your enemies. Love and expect nothing in return. Serve without repayment. Be kind no matter what. That’s what the cross is all about: Giving up everything for sinful humanity. Most of whom will not really care. Most of whom will not return that sacrificial love. Foot-washing and the cross closely mirror each other.
That’s why Jesus washed Judas’ feet. He was living out His own radical teaching. Read and really meditate on these words:
“I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).
Judas was there. Judas had his feet washed just like everybody else. He wasn’t skipped. He wasn’t rejected. Even though he would not respond with kindness. It would not soften his heart. He wouldn’t change his ways. Jesus still loved and served him. Because that’s what Jesus does. That who Jesus is. And that’s our challenge to imitate.
Washing Judas’ Feet:
The more I read the John 13 the more I see that Judas’ feet are actually a focal point of the whole story. Notice how it begins: “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon to betray Him, Jesus…got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:2-5). The whole story begins by focusing everyone’s attention on the unclean heart of Judas.
Now, notice how this story ends: “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, that one of you will betray Me…After the morsel, Satan then entered into [Judas]…So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night” (John 13:21-30).
Immediately following the foot-washing, that’s when Judas leaves the meal to go betray Jesus. It is one of his very last interactions with Jesus. It’s sandwiched between Satan putting the sin into Judas’ heart, then Satan actually entering fully into him. But not only is Judas at the beginning and end of the story, he’s right in the middle of it.
When Jesus is washing their feet, Peter shouts, “Never shall You wash my feet!” (John 13:8). Jesus’ response is remarkable: “‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me…He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you’” (John 13:8-10). Right in the middle, Jesus makes a brief comment about Judas, then continues washing their feet.
Judas is at the beginning, middle, and end of the foot-washing narrative. That probably means we should reflect on him as we read.
Judas Betrayed Jesus with Clean Feet:
Jesus’ kind act of service did nothing to stop Judas. It did not change his heart or mind. In fact, things escalated from there almost immediately. It’s wonderful to believe that kindness can change people. Because it can. It has and does. But not always. Judas’ feet were cleansed, but his heart wasn’t. Judas betrayed Jesus with clean feet and a filthy heart.
Earlier in John, this reality is foreshadowed in another foot-washing scene. Mary washes Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume, but Judas objects, saying that she should have sold the perfume to provide for the poor. Then John gives the reader a little insider information: “He said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:3-6). These two foot-washing scenes fill in a lot of details about Judas, and none of them are good.
While reading John 13 it’s important to notice the comparison taking place. On the one hand you have Judas. He has been following Jesus for years now. Has seen incredible things. Has seen the hungry fed, the blind given sight, the lame healed, and the poor blessed. He has seen the signs, but has rejected their significance. He may like Jesus, but he loves money more. And he serves himself above all. On the other hand you have Jesus, the polar opposite. He was humble, selfless, and generous. He freely took upon Himself the job of a slave. He cared more about His disciples’ feet than His own pride, or status, or self-importance. Money, power, or fame didn’t motivate Jesus. Self-giving love. That’s what Jesus was. That’s what Judas rejected. And that’s what we are all challenged to embody.