When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it, they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” (John 19:23-24a)
In the quiet hour before heading off to work, I sat at my kitchen table, steaming tea in hand, reading John 19 when I got stuck on the above passage. I mean really stuck, like when I chose to walk through my muddy backyard in flip flops (yes, that was a dumb move). I was stuck in the mud on a few simple sentences not mentioned in the other gospels. God places weighty intentionality behind all his words. So what was the significance of these additions? I needed help.
Later that morning at the VCC office, fully expecting a quick and satisfactory answer to unstick me, I stopped the first pastor to cross my path. The lot fell on Dane. “Hmm…let me go grab you a commentary,” was his response. I began sensing that sticky passage was catching another one off guard.
D.A. Carson’s commentary offered several interpretations of the passage but only one grabbed me with its connection to the Last Supper where Jesus lovingly washed his disciples’ feet. It is probably no coincidence that only John’s gospel mentions the foot washing and lottery for Jesus’ seamless garment.
John 13 leads off with this verse: “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. And then he began the demeaning chore of washing his disciples’ road-filthy feet. Jesus, the King of the Cosmos, took on the menial task of a poor, lowborn servant. To understand just how low he was stooping, we need to remember the height of his greatness and wealth:
“He is the image of the invisible God…all things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:15, 16).
As Jesus undressed down to his undergarment, the disciples were mortified. Feet washing was a task they considered beneath them. Yet here was their beloved Teacher, preparing to wash their muddy soles. Simon Peter, perhaps diverting his eyes away from Jesus’, said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” In love Jesus responded, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
After bathing twenty-four feet, Jesus put on his clothes and returned to his place at the dinner table. Their understanding was crucial so Jesus circled back with them. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” No response. His time winding down, Jesus continued teaching. “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.”
Hours later, the crucified Jesus was stripped naked, suffering utter humiliation, his body already having been torn, shredded by relentless, savage flogging. Bearing the full agonizing weight of our sins, Jesus watched as his few earthly possessions were divided between four soldiers. His death sentence deemed him not worthy of living.
How ironic that Jesus’ seamless undergarment was considered more valuable than his life. A piece of blood-soaked clothing was deemed worthy of not being torn and had soldiers gambling to possess it. Hanging broken on the cross, Jesus held nothing back. Stripped of all earthly worth, Jesus became dirt poor for our sake.
As he asked his disciples, so he asks us: do you understand what I have done for you? For your family, your comGroup, your enemies? On the cross, the full extent of God’s love was given to rescue all of humanity from the sucking muck of sin. Born spiritually dirt poor, we are all destined to an eternity estranged from a pure and holy God unless we accept as beggars his gift of eternal life.
Do you understand what Christ has asked of you and your comGroup? What are you clinging onto that has no eternal value? How might you follow Jesus’ example as a humble servant? Who needs your physical care? Are you reaching out to the marginalized, the dirt poor, in our community?
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
“Christ Jesus made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant….humbled himself by becoming obedient to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:1-3)