“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’
Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’
‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’
Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’”
- John 13:6-8
Sometimes we don’t realize the weight of our words. We so easily make assumptions about what is necessary, what’s important, what makes the most sense. We operate assuming that we know what’s best based on our own experiences and understanding.
Peter also thought he knew best. Peter thought that washing feet was a humiliating and unnecessary thing to do. Peter said that Jesus would never wash him. Peter thought that there was no good reason for Jesus to kneel down and scrub dirt off of his feet.
Peter thought he knew Jesus. But Peter had to realize that things aren’t always as they seem.
Jesus said to him, “You do not realize now what I am doing.”
That’s a humbling statement. Peter, you think you know what I’m all about, and you think that you have it all figured out and know how this story is supposed to go. But you do not realize what I am doing.
It would take some time before Peter understood the significance of this event, and I imagine that it absolutely floored him when the lightbulb finally went off. This was a Saviour unlike any other who was demonstrating that true power and kingship is found in seemingly contradictory places: in humility and service.
But Peter also had to realize that what he did for Jesus, how he could stand up for Jesus and assert Jesus as King, was not what mattered most.
Back in my grad school days, I found myself in a season of utter busyness. I was running around from thing-to-thing, hardly taking moments to breathe while juggling schoolwork, volunteer positions, part-time jobs, and community living.
I was doing all of it because I thought these things defined my allegiance to Jesus. I thought all of these things proved something—that I was loyal, devoted, well-rounded, seeking to be a witness, disciplined, working for the kingdom.
Peter thought all these things too. Peter was ready to drop everything and follow Jesus through every battle and sword fight, through every conflict and religious debate, up mountains and through valleys, in order to show his allegiance.
It’s why it was absolutely absurd to Peter that Jesus would stoop down and wash his feet.
When I crashed-and-burned from all my endeavours and was forced to quit everything to regain my mental well-being, I remember one day sitting in the living room, grappling with how little I could accomplish and frustrated that all I could do was sit in a chair and rest.
A roommate who had been listening to my ranting asked me, “Jenna, will you let Jesus wash your feet?”
And my impulsive reaction, when I pictured my King kneeling down in front of me and washing the grime off my toes, was to shout, “No! Absolutely not!” I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t picture Jesus doing that.
Why? Because my faith had been entirely built around what I do for Jesus, rather than what Jesus has done—and is doing, and will do—for me.
I realized in that moment that I was just like Peter. I had made assumptions of what Jesus wanted of me. I thought I knew what really mattered. I thought I had to demonstrate myself to Jesus in order to hold a place in His Kingdom.
And even now, the image of Jesus washing my feet still makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t make sense. I still don’t want Him to. I still feel like I would refuse Him.
The question I need to ask, then, is why? Why can’t I? What am I afraid of?
I want to invite you to pause a moment and refrain from going on to the next thing you were going to do. Just take a few moments to sit and imagine. Picture Jesus coming to you with a towel wrapped around his waist, kneeling in front of you, and washing your feet.
What is your response? How does Jesus react? What does He say?
Prayer: Living God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Teach us what this means. Teach us to receive from you in such a way that our hearts and minds are renewed and transformed. Release us from our assuming and controlling ways so that we can be open to receiving. In Christ, amen.