Jesus knows a lot. He knows things other people don’t know, even about themselves. He knows things about himself–where he’s from and where he’s going.
Maybe one of the keys to understanding the foot-washing episode that unfolds in John chapter 13 is Jesus’ self-understanding. As that story begins, John tells us that Jesus, “knowing . . . that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table . . .” All the action that follows is grounded in what Jesus knows to be true about himself.
John is at pains to portray the action: Jesus getting up from the table; Jesus laying aside his robe; Jesus taking a towel; Jesus tying the towel around his waist; Jesus filling a basin with water. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. We are meant to marvel at the deliberate movement of one who knows what he is doing because he knows who he is because he knows where he’s come from and because he knows where he’s going.
When we know where we come from and where we’re going, we can do a lot. The greatest feats of humility and service are possible when we are freed from the chore of performing our identity for the world and when we are permitted to just be who we know ourselves made to be. We are children of God, made in God’s image. We are going to God. Our lives are pointed in that direction.
Jesus’ instructions to imitate his humble service are possible when we own those truths about ourselves.