When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
It’s possible to be both right and wrong at the same time. For instance, it might be right to insist that people line-up and wait their turn for a drink of cold water on a hot day, but it would also be wrong not to allow someone with a physical disability to cut to the front of the line. It’s wrong to tell a lie, but it might be right to bend the truth just a bit to protect someone from being hurt. Sometimes, we need to see the bigger picture in order to understand what is right and what is wrong.
Peter was both right and wrong when he told Jesus not to wash his feet. It was socially inconceivable in Peter’s mind that Jesus, whom he considered his Lord and Master, would lower himself to the position of a common servant by scrubbing the dirt and dust off Peter’s smelly feet. Washing someone else’s feet was not unusual in that culture, but it was always only performed by the lowliest or youngest servant in the household. It was the least honorable and most humbling of all duties, and Peter was absolutely right to be alarmed that Jesus – of all people in the room that night, of all people who have ever lived – would stoop down with towel and basin to wash the feet of his disciples. Peter was right, but he was also wrong. And that’s just what Jesus told him. Jesus chose to wash their feet because He came to serve not to be served. He came to give himself away without demanding anything in return. Jesus came to show us how to love, how to sacrifice, how to serve, how to give compassion and how to imitate the gracious heart of God who gave his only Son to save sinners like us. What Jesus did for the disciples that night was socially wrong and yet spiritually right. It didn’t fit with the world’s expectations of a great leader, but it fit perfectly with the character and mission of our Savior.
As we read this story, we should feel the same tension – even shame – that Peter felt. What Jesus did for us through his life, death and resurrection displays a love that we can’t fully comprehend and that seems to defy the proper order of reality. How could Jesus serve me? Why would God give away his precious Son for my sake? It doesn’t make sense that Almighty God would humble himself before the selfish, foolish people He created. It doesn’t seem right, but it’s exactly who Jesus is.
Father, You are full of grace and perfect love. Thank You for sending Jesus to be my Savior. Help me to love and serve others just as Jesus did. I pray in His name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian