In Oriental countries where sandals are worn that cover merely the soles of the feet, it was, it is the custom of the host to offer his guest who comes water with which to wash his feet. There is no reason why this simple incident of humble service, or rather this symbolic act of humble service, could not be taken and made an essential condition of salvation by any council that saw fit to make it such. Things just as strange as this have happened; though any thinking man or woman to-day would deem it essentially foolish.
It is an example of how the spirit of a beautiful act could be misrepresented to the people. For if you will look at them again, Jesus' words are very explicit: " If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." But hear Jesus' own comment as given in John: " So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." It is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The spirit that it typifies is essential; but not the act itself.
The same could be rightly said of the Lord's Supper. It is an observance that can be made of great value, one very dear and valuable to many people. But it cannot, if Jesus is to be our authority, and if correctly reported, be by any means made a fundamental, an essential of salvation. From the rebuke administered by Jesus to his disciples in a number of cases where they were prone to drag down his meanings by their purely material interpretations, we should be saved from this.
You will recall his teaching one day when he spoke of himself as the bread of life that a man may eat thereof and not die. Some of his Jewish hearers taking his words in a material sense and arguing in regard to them one with another said: " How can this man give us his flesh to eat? " Hearing them Jesus reaffirming his statement said: " Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. . . . For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." His disciples, likewise, prone here as so often to make a literal and material interpretation of his statements, said one to another: " This is a hard saying; who can hear him?" Or according to our idiom - who can understand him? Jesus asked them squarely if what he had just said caused them to stumble, and in order to be sure that they might not miss his real meaning and therefore teaching, said: " It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."
Try as we will, we cannot get away from the fact that it was the words of truth that Jesus brought that were ever uppermost in his mind. He said, Follow me, not some one else, nor something else that would claim to represent me. And follow me merely because I lead you to the Father.
So supremely had this young Jewish prophet, the son of a carpenter, made God's business his business, that he had come into the full realisation of the oneness of his life with the Father's life. He was able to realise and to say, " I and my Father are one." He was able to bring to the world a knowledge of the great fact of facts - the essential oneness of the human with the Divine - that God tabernacles with men, that He makes His abode in the minds and the hearts of those who through desire and through will open their hearts to His indwelling presence.
The first of the race, he becomes the re-vealer of this great eternal truth - the mediator, therefore, between God and man - in very truth the Saviour of men. " If a man love me," said he, " he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. ... If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love."
It is our eternal refusal to follow Jesus by listening to the words of life that he brought, and our proneness to substitute something else in their place, that brings the barrenness that is so often evident in the everyday life of the Christian. We have been taught to believe in Jesus; we have not been taught to believe Jesus. This has resulted in a separation of Christianity from life. The predominating motive has been the saving of the soul. It has resulted too often in a selfish, negative, repressive, ineffective religion. As Jesus said: " And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?"
We are just beginning to realise at all adequately that it was the salvation of the life that he taught. When the life is redeemed to righteousness through the power of the indwelling God and moves out in love and in service for one's fellow-men, the soul is then saved.
A man may be a believer in Jesus for a million years and still be an outcast from the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. But a man can't believe Jesus, which means following his teachings, without coming at once into the Kingdom and enjoying its matchless blessings both here and hereafter. And if there is one clear-cut teaching of the Master, it is that the life here determines and with absolute precision the life to come.
One need not then concern himself with this or that doctrine, whether it be true or false. Later speculations and theories are not for him. Jesus' own saying applies here: " If any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." He enters into the Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven here and now; and when the time comes for him to pass out of this life, he goes as a joyous pilgrim, full of anticipation for the Kingdom that awaits him, and the Master's words go with him: " In my Father's house are many mansions."
By thus becoming a follower of Jesus rather than merely a believer in Jesus, he gradually comes into possession of insights and powers that the Master taught would follow in the lives of those who became his followers. The Holy Spirit, the Divine Comforter, of which Jesus spoke, the Spirit of Truth, that awaits our bidding, will lead continually to the highest truth and wisdom and insight and power. Kant's statement, " The other world is not another locality, but only another way of seeing things," is closely allied to the Master's statement: " The Kingdom of God is within you." And closely allied to both is this statement of a modern prophet: "The principle of Christianity and of every true religion is within the soul - the realisation of the incarnation of God in every human being."