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You Shall Never Wash My Feet

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.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:6-9 NIV)

The washing of feet was the work of the household servant. Today many folks ask that we remove our shoes when we enter their house so we don't track in dirt on clean carpets or hardwood floors. In Japan, it is customary to have slippers at the door for guests to use when they remove their shoes. In Jesus' day, the household servant washed the dusty, dirty feet of travelers who entered the home. It was customary hospitality.

Jesus arranged to celebrate Passover with His disciples on the night He was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, and then the next day put to death by crucifixion. Passover is the solemn remembrance of the night of the tenth plague in Egypt, when God set His people free from slavery. The angel of death took the lives of every first-born son in Egypt, except for those homes where the blood of a sacrificial lamb was sprinkled on the door posts of the house, indicating a faithful family of God lived there.

Luke's Gospel tells us right after Jesus reorients the Passover Seder to what we now call Holy Communion - with the bread as His body and the wine as His blood - an argument broke out among the disciples as to which one was the greatest. It is almost comical, and sadly tragic, that the response to Jesus focusing on the sacrifice of His own life on the cross is for His closest followers to begin to argue about which one is the most prominent.

It is then, I. believe, when Jesus gets up from the table, takes a basin of water and a towel, and begins to wash the disciples' feet. When Jesus gets to him, Peter protests. "Lord, are you goin to wash my feet?"

Peter's question is full of implications. Jesus, are you going to act as if you are the servant and I am the master? It is I who should be washing your feet. This is completely backwards.

Jesus states the obvious. “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” In just a moment, Jesus is going to explain it. But even then Peter will not fully understand it. It is only after the cross and the empty tomb and the coming of the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth that the disciples fully understand the truth that Messiah is to be a servant-King.

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Peter refuses to allow Jesus to be his servant. Here's an interesting thing about foot washing. In retreats where I have participated in the washing of feet, I find it is a hundred times easier to wash someone else's feet than to allow someone else to wash my feet. Something inside us - if you are like me - does not want to be served. It is humbling to allow someone to do something for us we can do for ourselves. And it is strangely prideful not to want to be humble.

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

I get the feeling Jesus is not talking about washing dirt from Peter's feet at this point. He's talking about the washing of sin from the soul. He's talking about the great truth of grace. God's grace, lavished on us by our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, is something we do not deserve and can never earn. It is a pure gift, and at one level puts us in the position of being charity cases. Grace can be understood as God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

The Apostle Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."

If Peter must be washed to have any part in Jesus, then he wants to be fully washed. “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” If nothing else, Peter gets this right. If I need to be washed, Jesus, then be sure and get me clean. If I am a sinner to be saved by grace, then let grace do its work and cleanse me. That is the humble attitude of the heart of one who stops trying to be good enough to please God and receives redemption by way of the cross.

Jesus goes on to clearly say to His disciples they must follow His example and become servants to each other and to the least, the last and the lost if they are to live the Kingdom life He is calling them to.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:13-17 NIV)

The clearest demonstration that our hearts are beating with the love of Jesus is our serving, rather than being served. We follow our Master most when we serve one another and serve this broken world our of His love, filling our hearts. So let's follow Jesus. Let's take up the basin and towel and wash some feet. Nothing will please Him more.



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