Review of Coloe, Mary L. “Welcome into the Household of God: The Foot Washing in John 13.”

Coloe, Mary L.  “Welcome into the Household of God: The Foot Washing in John 13.”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 66, no. 3 (2004): 400-15. [Israel/Herod/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship/Ablutions]

This paper builds upon a theory presented by the author in two previous books on the Gospel of John.  Her thesis is that John is portraying Jesus as a Shepherd-King who through laying down his life for his friends brings them into the “household” of God.  She applies “narrative criticism” to gain insight into the episode of the washing of feet in John 13.  She begins with an outline of the narrative structure of the story and proceeds with her analysis of each part of it.  The prologue to the story in verses 1-3 reproduces several themes from the prologue to the whole gospel found in John 1.  The emphasis is that the “hour” of Jesus’ death and glorification has arrived.  She then observes that the remainder of the chapter, including the verses after the foot washing episode, are a unit and are in chiasmatic form which she calls “reverse parallelism” of a, b, c; c’, b’, a’.  She leads readers through an analysis of this idea, including a side-by-side comparison of the major elements of the two sections.  This is important in the overall interpretation of the foot washing story.

The washing of feet itself grows out of the ancient cultural notion of hospitality, especially at a meal.  The story of Abraham in Genesis 18 is cited as an illustration. When insights from extra-biblical sources relative to the passage are included, “Abraham is established in the Jewish tradition as the great model of hospitality.” (p. 408)  The subsequent dialogue with Peter reveals that Jesus is extending an invitation to the disciples “to become participants with Jesus in his ‘hour.’” (409)   Here, however, Coloe begins to turn away from the traditional interpretation of this pericope as an “example of humility” to her theory of the creation of the household of God.  This is where the chiasm is useful.

The context of the story as found in John 13:1-3 is one of love and Jesus returns to this idea in the second half of the passage when he gives the disciples a new commandment to love one another as he has loved them.  For Coloe, this makes the washing of feet a “model” and an “expression” of love.  How so?  This becomes evident as she continues her analysis to the end.  Her final section is titled: “Interpreting the Foot Washing as Welcome into God’s Household.”  “From the first eighteen verses,” she writes, “the Evangelist begins to develop a metaphorical framework based on the Middle Eastern social structure of the ‘household.’”(411)  “For the disciples, foot washing is a proleptic experience of the welcome into the Father’s household that will be accomplished at the cross.” (412)  Foot washing here is a model of love as the love of Jesus is demonstrated by laying down his life, which Coloe argues is symbolized by the washing and becomes a pattern for the relationship of those drawn into the household of God.  She further argues that just as the Middle Eastern custom of washing of feet is an act of “welcome” to the house of the host, so this “primary perception” would be taken for granted by the disciples, but the questions remain as to what they are being welcomed into, and why was Jesus performing the action?  It’s meaning becomes evident “later” when on the cross Jesus commends his mother into the care of John, thus symbolically creating the “household” of God.  This is why the context of love is critical, “for love is the essential dynamism of any household.” (415)

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