Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet
John 13: 1 -15.
1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.
5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”9 Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?13 You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am.14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
I have been musing on this passage from John at times over the last couple of years.It has come up in my life in a variety of ways.However, not in ways that are addressed by most commentaries on this passage or sermons that I have heard taking this story as their theme.Most of the commentaries and sermons focus on this passage as a lesson in humble service.Surely, that lesson is in this passage.
What has been interesting me is another lesson that I have drawn from this passage.I think there is a subtle lesson about receiving God’s love to fulfill our relationship.A relationship of love is complete or fulfilled when love is both given and received.Receiving love sounds so simple and easy.It may be for many.But, for Peter and for me and those like Peter and me, it isn’t.I believe that Jesus’ words to Peter were for us.
The story is set within the Last Supper, a Seder enjoyed earlier on the evening Jesus was arrested and taken before the High Priest and Pilate.The Apostles gathered round the Seder table.They were engaged in lively conversation.The scripture doesn’t say but there should be an excited child preparing to search out the hidden bread and to initiate the important dialog by asking the appointed questions.In my image, this part of the story occurs just as they are all about to sit down for the opening chapter of this history in a meal.The Apostles are so engaged in their conversation that they don’t even notice as Jesus removes is robe, takes up the basin and the towel and begins to wash the feet of the guests.As striking as that may sound to us, none of those who were present even questioned it, until Jesus came to Peter.
Peter questions what Jesus is doing.Question is too mild a word.He rebels and refuses, telling Jesus he has it all wrong. Jesus’ act takes Peter out of his comfort zone.Peter immediately wants to reorder the roles into something he is more comfortable with.Peter wants to wash Jesus’ feet to exhibit his loyalty and his willingness to serve.
If servant hood were the only lesson to be derived here, Jesus could have allowed Peter to wash his feet, heaped praise upon him and held him up as the classroom example.Peter would have regained his comfort zone and maybe even glowed a little in light of such praise.But, that is not what Jesus did.
Jesus did not allow Peter back into his comfort zone.In some translations Jesus threatens Peter: unless you sit still, I will withdraw from you. “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”Peter immediately backfills:“Oh, I am so sorry.I didn’t understand what you were doing.If that’s what this is about then wash all of me.”Peter still didn’t understand.Jesus came back to Peter again:“No, Peter, you probably won’t understand all of this now; but, it is not about whether you are clean or dirty, physically or spiritually.”
The subtle lesson, I believe, is that Peter needs to learn to receive Jesus’ love.I hear Jesus say:
Peter, I must teach you yet one more lesson about love.Without this lesson you don’t have the full picture.You know the acts of love.I have seen you perform them among my Apostles and among my people.This lesson is about receiving love.You must sit still and allow me to wash your feet, as my act of love for you.Peter, it will not be enough for you to be all the other things.Even if you spend the rest of your life in the most humble of service to others, it won’t be your full share.To enjoy your full share in Me, you must receive My love.We must complete the cycle, we must fulfill our relationship completely.
Love completes its cycle when it is both given and received!So simple!It is one of the hardest things I have come across in my life.I think, like many men, I know much about loving in the active sense.I can do loving things.It is much more difficult for me to accept, understand and gratefully receive love directed toward me.
Love completes its cycle when it is given and received.
The Servant Song, by Richard Gillard
Brother, let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant, too. . . .
©1977 Scripture in Song
Blessings be upon you. Go, gratefully receive the acts of love all around you, and live in that love.