Psalm 41 is not a leisurely stroll along a beautiful hillside on a sunny day. David is crying out to God “in the day of trouble.” Throughout, he uses words like enemies, illness, sickbed, malice, and hate. Notice especially verse 9:
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
Can you imagine being beaten to the point that you are laying helplessly on the ground? “A deadly thing” has been “poured out on you” and those who have hatefully beaten you say to themselves, “He will not rise again from where he lies.” And just then, when all seems lost, your “close friend” approaches. You’ve trusted him. You’ve shared your food with him. Despite your desperate vulnerability, hope flashes through your mind. “My close friend! He is here to help me!” But as he approaches, your friend doesn’t defend you or extend a hand to lift you up. Instead, he lifts his heel to strike the most devastating blow of all. That’s the dark picture David is painting in Psalm 41.
There are many remarkable things about this 3,000-year-old poem, but most remarkable is its reappearance in John 13.
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” (13:1-19)
What an example worth meditating upon throughout the day! Before Judas Iscariot metaphorically “lifted his heel” against Jesus in betrayal, the Son of God literally lifted the filthy heel of Judas in loving service. But hear Jesus today. John 13 has been preserved for many reasons. Here’s one: Jesus’ example is the example to follow.
“For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
A thousand years after David wrote Psalm 41, his royal heir not only experienced what David was lamenting, he washed the heel of his betrayer. And then that heel was lifted against him.
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread…
But the Teacher was not overcome by evil. The Teacher and Lord overcame evil with good. And he continues to teach today…
If I know these things, allowing my heart to be softened and shaped by them, blessed am I as I do them, following in the footsteps of the King who washes the feet of traitors.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:21)