“Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love,” John 13:1.
So begins Jesus’ last night with his closest friends in which he washes their feet, shares Passover with them, inaugurates the Eucharist and gives them their marching orders for when he is gone.
What always astounds me about the Passover meal Jesus shares with his disciples is the very fact that Jesus decides to share it with his friends who are about to betray and desert him. Peter is there—the disciple who swears up and down that he will never, ever, in a million years betray Jesus. And we all know how that worked out for Peter. And yet Jesus still washes Peter’s feet and extends to him the bread and the cup.
But more astounding to me is the presence of Judas. The same Judas whom Satan had already convinced to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. And yet, Jesus, knowing all that was about to happen, still washes Judas’ feet and as far as I can tell extends the cup and bread to Judas.
I wonder how this passage can speak into our theology of personhood and hospitality. I wonder what this passage means for my theology of strangers, and even more so, my theology of enemies. Who are my enemies? What is my responsibility towards them? And bigger still what should the stance of the Church be towards those we disagree with?
I wonder when it comes to specifically the issue of homosexuality, which seems to be the issue for the Evangelical church right now, why is this passage never talked about? Shouldn’t the fact that Jesus washed Judas’ feet on the very night Judas betrayed him somehow inform what it means to be with others? And if so in what ways?
Jesus never excused sin; he actually upped the ante. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus redefined sin that makes me, and everyone I come in contact with, guilty of murder and adultery. When Jesus meets with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, he calls out her behavior as sin. And when the woman caught in adultery later in the same gospel is alone with Jesus after all of her accusers have left, Jesus tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
But what compels these women to leave their lives of sin is not judgment and rejection and a hard-line stance, but rather a radical, life-altering experience of love. They realize that, contrary to their culture, they are so much more than their sin, and that they are loved even in their sin.
What is so hard for me to wrap my heart around is that Jesus knew that Judas was not going to repent, and yet he still opened the door of hospitality to Judas till the very last minute. Till the very last minute Jesus was inviting Judas into love; Jesus never stopped inviting Judas into love.
In his book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen describes hospitality in this way:
Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are not alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own. (pp. 71-72)
This view of hospitality is scary and raises more questions than answers, but we have to be okay with the questions instead of thinking everything is so cut and dry.
I really do not know what it means that Jesus washes Judas’ feet and Peter’s feet, but I at least want to ask the question. And I want to dialogue with others about what this means.