“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” John 13.6-10
The struggle is real for Peter. Impulsive, stubborn, speaks before thinking, acts before planning. Peter finds himself many throughout the Scriptures doing things he wished he could take back or the envy of others.
In this instance Jesus is bringing more than just a clever object lesson. Peter, who is surprised by Christ’s action initially refuses the Lord’s gift. “No,” Peter says, “You shall never wash my feet.” Curious that he who is called to lead the church refuses this instruction from the Lord. Peter knew what was happening, he was working himself up as Jesus went around the circle. When Jesus gets to Peter the latter is beside himself and can’t believe what he’s doing.
Never is as strong word. “Jesus…you shall never…” Only, “never” didn’t work for Peter because Jesus responds with a word of strength in return — “Unless I wash your feet, you have no part of me.” Well now Jesus, that changes things! “Then Lord,” Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.” Peter wanted to be a part of Jesus.
As we read the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, the character of God, though sometimes surprising, does not change. God the Father responds often in the same way to people as God the Son does. When the twelve tribes were receiving their allotment of land, the Levite’s did not receive a portion because their portion was the presence of the Lord himself. In the same manner, Jesus is offering himself to Peter. Entering into a saving, loving, communal relationship of love with a God who wants intimacy with his people.
This is what Jesus was offering his disciples in this holy act of worship. It was also to teach humility, set an example for servant hood, and to demonstrate his love and his unfailing commitment to his friends.
“O Lord, there is a bit of Peter in each of us. A bit of Peter who says, “No way Lord!” Until we realize that what you have for us is indeed best for us. Thank you for the example of Peter who in his impetuousness finds peace. Deliver us from the den of the evil one, the wolf in sheep’s clothing who seeks our demise. Come now, Holy Spirit, let us walk in step with you and glorify your name. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen