Thursday, March 28, 2013

Do you wash me?

As John and I finished preparing the table, I noticed that everyone’s feet were very dirty—mine were as well. I winced… the master of the house had not provided a servant to wash our feet. Still, John and I had been working all day. Surely we would not be expected to do it—and anyway, someone would volunteer eventually.[1] We finished and, double-checking that everything was ready, signaled for the others to come and take their places. Everyone wanted to sit next to Jesus, and there was even arguing over who deserved it more. John and I argued that we deserved to sit next to him, given that we had been working all day, but the others disagreed. By chance I saw Jesus shift, saw his face, his expression, and immediately I felt a deep sense of shame.
I stopped speaking, and the others quickly saw what I had seen and fell silent as well. We reclined wherever we found ourselves, and John, standing closest to Jesus, was able to be next to him after all. But as soon as I had settled in, I realized that our feet were still dirty—dry, dusty, and a little uncomfortable. No one had washed them. I saw everyone else thinking the same thing, looking towards the basin and towel, ready for us to use.
But no one moved, except Jesus. He rose up, and as we all watched him in disbelief, he took off his outer robe and wrapped the towel around his waist. I wanted to speak, wanted to say something, anything—but I could not. I could only watch in growing horror at my own pride as Jesus poured the water into the basin and, carrying it back to us, began washing Andrew’s feet. I saw the shame on his face as Jesus poured the water over his feet and dried them with the ends of the towel around his waist. I could see his thoughts: It should be me washing his feet. It was my thought as well—all of ours, I think, as he went around the table and washed our feet. When he finally came to me, I could not take it anymore.
            I stopped him, and said, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” I should be washing his, not the other way around.
            He smiled, gently and sadly, but his voice was firm as he said, “You do not understand what I am doing now. Afterward, you will understand.”
            After? After what? Anyway, it did not matter. “Lord,” I said wretchedly, “You will never wash my feet.”
            Still the sad smile. “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.”
            Fine. If he wanted to wash me, he could. I needed it. But I would be washed completely.[2] “Lord, then not my feet only but also my hands and head!” I should stop talking. I knew I should.
But I did not, and my shame only grew as Jesus, shaking his head with that sad smile still on his face, said, “He who has bathed already only needs to wash his feet. He is already completely clean.” He was speaking to all of us now. I nodded, still not understanding, really, but he continued. “And you are clean,” he said, looking at all of us, and the smile disappeared as he went on: “But not all of you.” Then he continued, washing my feet and everyone else’s, and no one spoke. We were ashamed and confused, and we did not know what to do.
After he had finished and dressed, he reclined at the table again and, gently and patiently, said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? Do you know why?” He did not wait for us to answer, but went on. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right to do so, because that is what I am. If, then, I, as your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet.” He stopped speaking and looked around the table, and I could not meet his gaze. I had been proud. I should have washed his feet, and theirs—but I had not.[3]

[1]Hendriksen (John Vol. 2, 228): “The washing of the feet was customary… it was, after all, a menial task, a task to be discharged by a servant… But here in the upper room there was no servant. Hence, one of the disciples should have performed this task. But none was willing.”
[2]MacArthur (John 12-21, 67): “Though he may have missed the Lord’s point and thought He was referring to a physical washing, whatever Jesus was offering, Peter wanted all of it.”
[3]John’s account of the Last Supper is so long that it would be impractical to attempt to include it all in this narrative. I will include only the points most relevant to Peter, with the understanding that I am not attempting to exclude the rest of John’s narrative which I do not explicitly include.

We might well remember Isaiah 43:19: "Behold, I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it!" Of course, that could be the theme verse for all of the gospel story, but now it reaches a fever pitch: Jesus will take the Feast of Passover, commemorating, in many ways, the very birth of the Jewish people, and he will turn it into a Sacrament. He will fulfill the Old Covenant and personally implement the New. And now, as before, it will not be perceived immediately. 

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

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