This Thursday of Holy Week, also known as Maundy Thursday, commemorates two main events with Jesus and his disciples: The institution of the Lord’s supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Today we meditate on the profoundness of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples:
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He 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!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:3-17)
First, let’s take a look at Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ attempt to wash his feet. He refuses! Who says no to the Messiah? But before we throw Peter under the bus we need to understand why he was so uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus washing his feet.
People in Jesus’ day had very dirty feet. All that dust and all that walking in sandals meant your feet were always caked with dust. Often when guests entered a house, their feet were washed, often by a slave. This was not a glamorous job but was seen as reserved for those of low account. So we see why Peter was thrown for a loop when Jesus wanted to wash his feet. How could the Messiah and King of the Universe do the job of a slave? How could this be right?
Jesus took our idea of greatness and flipped it on its head. The greatest are those that serve in love and humility, not the ones with status and high position. He said elsewhere: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
Take a minute and imagine Jesus washing your feet. Picture looking down as Jesus, fully God, sustainer of the universe, King over everything, as he scrubs the dirt off your feet. So much in us wants to scream, “This isn’t right! I don’t deserve this!”
This is the essence of the Gospel! How true it is that we do not deserve God to serve us in this way. Jesus not only served his disciples by washing away their dirt but he served all of us by washing away our sin. As in the example of Peter, we can only know God if we allow Jesus to wash us. Refusal of Christ’s act on the cross means you cannot share fellowship with Him.
Jesus did not stop with his disciples, letting them think he was the only one to serve. This act was an example, that every one of his followers will follow his example. We are not to define greatness by status or position, but by loving service to one another.
Questions to Contemplate
1. How does the idea of Jesus serving us strike you?
2. Are there areas in your life where pride has had you refuse to “be washed” by Jesus?
3. How do you define greatness in your life? What people do you see as great and how to you strive for greatness?
4. Who is God asking you to serve in love and humility this week?