John 13:3-15 (CEB)
Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.
I’m a day behind in Holy Week, I know, but I have been wrestling in my mind for words to express this feeling I have about this foot-washing scene, unsuccessfully!
On Maundy Thursday many ministers and bishops and priests and people recognised in positions of christian leadership will make an attempt to imitate Christ in some kind of public setting. I have seen people do shoe-shine duty in shopping centres, others will wash feet at Maundy Thursday services – often joining with ecumenical colleagues in various states of embarassment and awkwardness about drying betwen the toes, some have washed hands in an effort to find a modern day Western-world equivalent to this old Middle Eastern custom.
This is ENTIRELY appropriate – please don’t read this as a criticism of any of that. Jesus quite clearly says “I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.”
But there’s more here.
Peter. Peter at first refuses.
I think this is significant. At first, Peter cannot accept this from Jesus. Peter’s response is that HE should be the one offering service – he should be the one to do the loving (if you like) – and Jesus should be the recipient.
Jesus says no.
This is the thing I am struggling to put into words – but I’ll try my best.
There is, I think, something important here about learning to receive love – specifically – learning to receive God’s love. There is something here about recognising that I am not the one DOING things for God – God is the one doing things for me. I am not the one loving or serving God – God is the one loving and serving me. I have nothing to offer God – God has everything to offer me.
There is a certain humility about accepting that you are not the one GIVING – but you are the one who is in need – you are the one RECEIVING.
When Peter realises this – he grasps it fully and says – not just my feet then – ALL OF ME!!
I imagine Jesus laughs with him.
Of course this isn’t the only lesson to learn… Mary “washes” Jesus’ feet with her tears… she has something to offer – but that offering is simple and honest gratitude for that which she has first been humble enough to receive.