Loving Father, may I have the power to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19).
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I 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, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Forget most paintings you have seen of the Last Supper. Even Leonardo da Vinci, a Renaissance genius, was unaware of first century eating customs as he painted “The Last Supper”. In New Testament times Jews had adopted the Roman style of banqueting known as Convivium. Thus, the Gospels paint a picture of the Last Supper as a Convivium. There are low tables, each with three or four people reclining around it on a couch, mat, or rug. Diners lean on their left hand with the right hand free to reach food from the table. The diners’ feet point away from the table. (See NIV Cultural Background Study Bible)
Custom required a slave lowest in the pecking order to wash diners’ feet. That was a thankless job as roads were largely unpaved and deep in dust or muddy. People walked roads dirty with animal waste and chamber pot contents emptied. Sandals were mere soles held together by a few straps so that feet were deep in the dirt and smelly mire.
But there were no slaves in the Upper Room and Jesus’ disciples were not about to do a slave’s demeaning work. They chose to violate all custom and recline at dinner with dirty feet, arguing about who was the greatest. But Jesus was adept at serving, even declaring this the very reason He came into the world: to serve (Mark 10:45). So with hands entrusted all things by the Father (John 13:3), Jesus sets about washing dirty feet. He washes away the dirt, caked mud and mire. With a towel he pats dry each foot and latches up the sandals.
Then Jesus comes to Peter, kneels before him, and hears Peter say: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus tells Peter: “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” In other words, besides the obvious, there is a lot more going on here than washing dirty feet. Not to be deterred, Peter protests: “You will never wash my feet.”
What is it about Peter that will not let Jesus do for him that which he most desperately needs? What is it about us that will not let Jesus do for us what we need Him to do?
I have a friend, a follower of Jesus, who told me how difficult it is for him to receive grace. He wants to earn his grace! He wants to deserve it! He would wash Jesus’ feet, but would have a hard time letting Jesus wash his.
How about you? Would you find it difficult to let Jesus wash your feet? Do you want to earn it? Would that be humility, or would that be pride?
- Take a few moments to become a part of this scene in the Upper Room. Imagine Jesus going from Judas’ feet, to Thomas’ feet, to Philip, Andrew
and Bartholomew. Now, Jesus has come to my feet. What do I want to say
- If not a ‘foot washing’, what is it I need Jesus to do for me? Take a few
moments to talk with Jesus about what I need.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day.
Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)