During the Last Supper, Jesus “came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ ’’ (John 13:8-9)
In this passage we see Jesus getting ready for his imminent death. We know this, but the disciples do not. At supper, Jesus takes on the role reserved for a non-Jewish slave: foot washing. The disciples have seen Jesus’ power and his ability to heal and raise the dead to life. Now he is setting up to wash their dirty feet? Something isn’t right here.
I really admire Peter in his eagerness to be accommodating. He so often tries to get it right and gets it so wrong. He says to Jesus, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” I too would be asking that. He is Lord—why would he wash my feet? I will wash his!
Jesus says, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter insists, “You shall never wash my feet.” Oh, if only we would truly listen. Here he thinks he is proving his allegiance, when in fact he is potentially cutting himself off from acceptance.
In C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace discovered that, no matter how many layers of dragon skin he managed to peel off, he was still a dragon until Aslan cured him. So too, Peter needed to accept and embrace his need to be washed by Jesus. Christ answered Peter, saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
He has called us each by name. Not in a far off, “see what you can do first and I’ll handle the rest” kind of way. He paid for us completely and brutally. He paid in full and then some. If he did not die in our place, we would never have a chance!
I found encouragement and edification from this passage in asking, “How can I relate to Peter?” In what ways have I said to the Lord, “No, you must not wash my feet”? How can I enter his rest if I don’t allow his obedience unto death to be my substitute?
In what areas of your life do you keep Jesus at arm’s length? Are you trying to do him a favor by trying to clean yourself up, saying, “No, I am unworthy for you to wash me”? Rid yourself of this pride and receive his cleansing and hold nothing back.
As Christians, we can’t look away from the cross because it makes us uncomfortable. Because Jesus is that personal, he loves us that deeply. If we only let him wash our hands and our heads, we’ll never know the beauty of letting him wash us completely. Only then can we enter into his rest.
Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm: “We must lay before him [God] what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” It is only through this exchange, his death and resurrection for us, for all, that we can go forth proclaiming the good news.
For further encouragement see these verses: Job 40:8-14, Romans 11:18, John 10:34, 15:4.