Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”
I have always thought of this passage as simply a wonderful picture of serving. Jesus took this opportunity to model humility, to become lowly, to set aside His position and do the jobs that hold no glory. I still think that’s mostly what it’s about, but today something else jumped out when I read it. I think there is a lesson within the lesson.
When Jesus got down to His humble business of washing feet, Peter objected. It just felt wrong for Jesus to wash him! This was the man who Peter had given up his life’s work to follow, the man who Peter called the Holy One of God. I imagine that Peter gave voice to exactly what the others may have been feeling as well. How uncomfortable to have this man who they saw as their King bowing down before them!
But in the exchange between Jesus and Peter, there is another layer. Peter accepts that if this is really what Jesus wants, then he definitely wants it, too. And in Peter’s characteristic exuberance, he wants even more. Hey, if this brings me closer to you, Jesus, wash ALL of me! Not just feet, but hands! And my head, too! Yes, Lord!
That’s when the other facet of Jesus’ behavior shows up. He has shown servanthood, yes, but now he gently addresses the idea of cleansing. No, Peter…you’re already clean. You have bathed and prepared for the feast. It’s only the dust of the road that needs to be washed from your feet, and then you’ll be fine.
What was the purpose of this little exchange? Perhaps Jesus was giving us a picture of the Christian life. We come to faith, we enter in joyfully, we are washed in His blood, and we are CLEAN. Hallelujah! But as we walk the road, doing the things He directs us to do, following daily life, the dust of the world creeps through our shoes. Our feet get dirty. We have bathed, we are still clean in Him, but the challenges of life sometimes make us a little grungy around the edges. He invites us to return to Him and allow Him to wash off the travel stains—to become completely clean again!
Notice that this scene happened at the Last Supper, on which we base our communion. He is inviting us to receive not only intimacy with Him through the bread and the wine, but a restoration. It’s not a rebaptism or even a rededication, but glorious refreshment from Jesus. Not only are we to serve others, but we are to allow Him to serve us! He makes us clean again. It is one more way that He sustains us.