The disciples have been together with Jesus for three years, but things have started to change. The air is electric. There is a sense of anticipation. Jesus has begun to focus more on the disciples than on the crowds. He is spending more time with those who are closest to him.
Just before our reading, Jesus takes off his outer clothing and wraps a towel around his waist. He gets a basin of water and begins washing his disciples' feet. Jesus gets up and dresses like a servant, then he begins doing the work of a servant. … Footwashing was among the lowest of jobs. It wasn't just any servant who did the footwashing. It was the lowest ranking servant who did the footwashing. … The fact that Jesus gets up to do this task is shocking. Here is the Lord of the universe washing the feet of fishermen and tax collectors. The way the world understands power and authority has just been turned on its head.
The part of this footwashing that always sticks in my mind is when I imagine Jesus tenderly washing the feet of Judas. If you have ever had your feet washed at a Maundy Thursday service, you know how personal that is. Unless you are someone who regularly gets pedicures, it is uncomfortably intimate.
Jesus moved the basin and knelt at Judas' feet. And Jesus knew. He knew what was going through Judas' mind. He knew the betrayal he was planning. He knew that Judas would set in motion a political machine that would result in his agonizing torture and death. And Jesus kneels in front of him and pours water over the feet that have walked with him on dusty roads for three years. He washes the feet that will shortly walk away from the light into the darkness of the night to betray him into the hands of those who will kill him.
The love Jesus shows Judas is not comprehensible on a worldly level. When we move from the footwashing back to the meal we are surprised to find Judas again at a place of honour. He is close enough to Jesus for him to serve him by giving him bread. He is close enough for Jesus to whisper to him without anyone else hearing. At the meal Judas was at a place of honour close to Jesus. … St. Augustine interprets Jesus’ being “troubled in spirit” not as concern for his own well being, but concern for Judas and the path he is choosing because he knows what he is about to do. … Even those within the church whose hearts are set on betrayal are treated with loving service by Jesus.
There have been many efforts to try to understand the motivation of Judas. Some of the more conspiracy-minded have thought it was a secret conspiracy between Jesus and Judas. … Most, though, have seen it as an expression of evil manifesting through the world, the flesh, or the devil. Some have seen Judas as a zealot trying to push Jesus into leading a revolt according to the social expectation of the messiah as a warrior king. … Others have seen Judas as being motivated by greed for money, and we shouldn’t underestimate that temptation. People DO do horrifying things for money. … Still others, like our Gospel, see Judas’ actions as an expression of demonic evil. … Whatever the reason, there is no lack of turmoil in Judas, which leads him to end his life, which casts even more mystery on the motivations of Judas.
I am fascinated by the image of Judas because I think humility demands that we see our own potential to betray our Lord. … Like Peter and the other disciples we can cry out, “not I, Lord”. But, we know what happened with them. … What we see from Jesus, however, is love. He prays for them. He serves them. When we are at our darkest, we still find Jesus lovingly washing our feet and feeding us bread.
Jesus is the embodiment of the God who is love. God's love is not something we earn. It is even for traitors like Judas. Jesus loves us and serves us because that's who he is. Jesus' whole life is an integrated act of loving service to us and to his Father. We cannot claim to be free of the potential for evil, but in Christ we find a grace that is stronger than that evil.