I am not a great swimmer. It is only due to the mercy of our high school swimming instructor, Ms. Soss, that I graduated high school, since Steinert High School has a requirement to pass swimming class for graduation. Due to my lack of ability, deep waters can be a place of great danger for me while they serve as a place of fun and joy for the apt swimmer. The motif of water, including both the blessing and judgement of water, are seen throughout the Scriptures. Here in our passage, Jesus, in His washing of the disciples’ feet, makes a sacramental reference to the washing (John 13:8b). As good confessional Presbyterians, we acknowledge that baptism is a “sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life” (WCF 28.1). Yet, this could not have been stated about all the disciples, for Jesus knew that they were all not truly clean, and “knew who would betray him” (John 13:10b-11).
Therefore, the question concerns Judas. What are we to do with Judas who has had his feet washed along with the other disciples? Or rather, what are we to say about the washing? This question leads us back to the motif of water throughout Scripture. The same waters that cleansed the earth of wickedness, drowning those who rejected God, are the same waters through which Noah and his family were saved (Genesis 9). In the Exodus story, the same waters that were parted for the sake of escape for the fleeing Israelites, are the same waters that drowned the approaching Egyptians, pursuing God’s children (Exodus 14). Even in the account of the prophet Jonah, the same waters that nearly capsized Jonah’s traveling ship, are the same waters by which the rescuing fish would come (Jonah 1). Water in the scriptures is filled with blessing and judgement. So, what for Judas? The same waters that provide a true washing and inclusion into Christ for the other disciples, truly become Judas’ judgement. To add injury to insult, Christ’s act of humility and service is a sign of judgement as Proverbs states: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22). It is interesting to note that even the idea of burning coals symbolizes both judgement (Psalm 140:10) and spiritual purification (Isaiah 6:6; Leviticus 16:12).
Sacraments mean and do something. They are not mere memorials for the believer. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper itself is for our “spiritual nourishment of growth in Him” (WCF 29.1), and yet Paul writes to the Corinthians that “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). Therefore, we should all the more take seriously the sacraments in which we have and continue to partake. The warnings of Scripture are clear. May the sacraments be for our good, and not for our demise, like Judas.