Lectionary Year A
March 28, 2002
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JW)The gospel of John contains the only account of the Last Supper that includes the story of the footwashing. There are interesting parallel passages that contain similar content to that which is found in this passage though.

Luke 12:37 "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them." (RSV)
Raymond Brown points at that Jesus is doing just this thing in John 13.

Mark 10:42-45 "And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (RSV)

In Luke's account of the Last Supper, the discourse arose after they had taken the bread and the wine. If we were to attempt to harmonize Luke's and John's account, this discussion would take within a short time after Jesus had washed his disciples feet.
Luke 22:24-27 "A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is greater, one who sits at the table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at the table? But I am with you as one who serves." (RSV)

The significance of these passages in relation to the footwashing that is found only in John 13 is that these demonstrate that Jesus has been teaching this pattern of servant leadership and trying to redefine greatness to his disciples at other times verbally. If Jesus did wash the feet of his disciples (John13) right before they got in a dispute over who was the greatest (Luke 22) that would explain the dire need for the living illustration that Jesus made reference too.
One explanation that was given in Raymond Brown's commentary is that John created this illustration to demonstrate the teaching point that the synoptics has already made.
Finally, I Timothy 5:10 states that a widow should only "be enrolled" if she has practices a number of good actions including having "washed the feet of the saints." This is just an example of how some interpreted the instruction made by Jesus to wash each other's feet.

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JW)Raymond Brown points out that it was customary, due to the dusty roads, for hosts to provide water for a guest to wash his feet himself. He also writes, "as the Midrash Mekilta on Exod xxi 2 tells us, the washing of a master's feet could not be required of a Jewish slave. As a sign of devotion, however, occasionally disciples would render this service to their teacher or rabbi; and Jesus seems to allude to this custom in vss 13-14. Thus, I the footwashing Jesus humiliates himself and takes on the form of a servant."
Brown also says that their is nothing in the Passover meal ritual that could be thought to be the source from with the footwashing had been derived. He informs that the footwashing would not have been done during the course of the meal, but immediately after one had entered the house.
Brown also cites another source that makes reference to footwashing. He writes, "Swank… points to chapter xx of Joseph and Asenath, an Alexandrian Jewish work probably composed between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. When Asenath, Joseph's bride-to-be, offers to wash his feet, Joseph protests that a servant girl could do it; but Asenath exclaims devotedly; 'Your feet are my feet… another shall not wash your feet.' (xx 1-5)" (565).

C. Hellenistic World

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