“Lord, are you you going to wash my feet?” Peter said.
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
“No!” Peter said. You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”John 13: 6-9 CEB
As I read this, I think about if my mentor or pastor came over to my house and started washing my dishes, I’d probably react the same way Peter did. I’d feel really bad and very uncomfortable. It’s kind of against my Asian-ness to even allow that to happen!
But what’s really happening here? This part of the passage is known as the “washing of feet.” If you’ve been through church or at a wedding, you might’ve seen this before. The act of washing of someone’s feet is very humbling. Not to downplay the act of it, but if you read the rest of John 13, I hope you grasp the depth of Jesus’s actions.
In the middle of dinner (the last supper), without saying a word about what He is up to, Jesus gets up to gather all the items to wash his disciples feet. What’s going on in His head? And what compels him to wash His disciples feet as they are eating and not wash them before the meal? And why did He not have the servant of the house perform the washing?
Well long story-short, Jesus is about to die and leave the disciples. His students, the ones that have been with Him through His ministry thus far, who seem to have been occupied with determining, “who is the greatest?” or which of the disciples is a better student. And after many teachings and many parables later we find them here at the table. The night before Jesus is to die. They probably still don’t fully comprehend Jesus and His teachings. It’s sort of like when you are sitting in lecture and you hear what the professor is saying, but you don’t fully comprehend what he/she is trying to teach. So Jesus used this familiar custom to teach them, in hopes that the disciples would fully comprehend what Jesus was doing when they looked back on his actions (or this moment).
He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.
“I’m telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I Am. I assure you that whoever receives someone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Jesus is commissioning His students and passing on the baton! They are very far from perfect. Jesus already knows that one of His students will betray him and the other will reject him. But even though they don’t understand now, he completely entrusts His ministry for them to carry out, despite the betrayal, rejection and maybe even passiveness. Jesus follows through with His disciples by serving them so that they can go and do the same.
If we do not allow ourselves to receive Jesus’ kindness and servant-hood, he says, “unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.” Are you allowing yourself to receive the serving heart of Jesus? Will you allow for Jesus has His last wish to wash you? Would you be willing to do the same for others knowing they might reject, betray or not full understand?