John 13 and the Disciples’ Mission

In John 13 Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Commentators agree that, at the very least, this story makes the point of Mark 10:45 in narrative (see comments by Michaels, p. 725):

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Jesus commands the disciples to follow his example: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15).

Aside from the question about whether the church should actually wash feet in our gatherings in obedience to Jesus’ command (Michaels thinks so) Jesus sets down an ethic of death for his disciples. Jesus lays down his life for those he loves; he loves “to the end” or “to the ultimate” depending on how one understands the Greek of verse one (either quantitatively or qualitatively). So also, the disciples are to lay down their lives for each other.

Interspersed in this narrative are two pronouncements – one in verse 16 and another in verse 20.

Very truly I tell you, no servant is grater than his master, no is a messenger greater than the one who sent him (16)

Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me (20)

These two pronouncements put Jesus’ action in the story in the framework of the ongoing mission of the disciples after Jesus’ departure. The concept of agency, which is prominent in John, is evident here. As the Father sent Jesus as his emissary to the world to reveal himself to it (1:14) and to die for it (1:29; 10:17-18), so Jesus sends his disciples as his and the Father’s emissaries to reveal the Father and to die in service to each other in the world.

Michael’s puts it eloquently: “John’s Gospel has taken the notion of agency, intimated in Matthew and Luke, and made it the very foundation of both christology and ecclesiology” (745).

Jesus’ mission from the Father serves as NO mere model for the mission of the church; rather Jesus’ mission, as presented in John’s Gospel, IS the church’s mission.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.
(John 20:21)

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