Wash My Feet?
March 11, 2022
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" (John 13:6-11).
Was Peter’s response to Jesus an expression of his humility? of his reverence for Jesus? or simply a refusal to allow Jesus to take the role of a servant when no one else would? Clearly Peter didn’t understand the motive behind Jesus’ act of humility (v.7). Clearly he didn’t understand the significance it had for him and the other disciples.
Jesus washing the feet of the disciples was a symbolic act stressing the importance of His disciples being humble servants. It was a lesson on humility and was intended to teach them in such a manner that it would be impossible for them to forget it. Had Jesus simply commanded them to be humble, it would not have impressed them as much as seeing Him actually performing the duty of a humble servant. It would be a lesson that would follow them for the rest of their lives. Every day they would see more and more the necessity of humility and kindness to each other, and to realize they were the servants of Christ and of the church, and were not to seek honors and offices, but were to be willing to perform the humblest service to benefit others and the Kingdom of Christ.
Peter’s initial response, You shall never wash my feet, was it a firm expression of his reverence for Jesus, or was it an expression of defiance? Whichever response it was, it was an improper response. Jesus had just said His action had a meaning, and that Peter ought to have submitted to it whether understood it or not. What’s the point?
Jesus, as the Master Teacher, often used physical and temporal realities to stress spiritual and eternal truths. His parables are prime examples of this, as was His placing a child in their midst to stress that we cannot enter the Kingdom until we fully trust Him like a child trusts its parent (Matthew 18:1-6). By washing his feet, Jesus took the occasion to reveal to Peter that if he would not allow Him to cleanse his soul and to be made pure by Him, he could not be His true disciple.
As such, washing is often the symbol of moral purification (1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5-6). This is the meaning of baptism. This was the sense in which Jesus used these words. It reminds us that unless Christ purified Peter, he would have no evidence of his discipleship. Hugo Grotius states it this way, “Unless by my doctrine and spirit I shall purify you and remove your pride (Matthew 26:33), your lack of constant watchfulness (Matthew 26:40), your anger (Matthew 26:51), your timidity and fear (Matthew 26:70,74), you can have no part in me.” Amen.