Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 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!” John 13:5-9
Jesus knelt down before the twelve bewildered men, took off his shirt, and tied it around his waist. Then he pulled out a servant’s basin and began washing the men’s feet. You see, they were about to eat supper when this happened. And in those days, they didn’t sit on chairs and at tables like most of us do. They reclined on cushions and propped themselves up on an elbow. This meant that messy, sandaled feet were rude and unhygienic. Because of their sandals, people’s feet would be caked with dirt or feces from animals. Usually, washing guests’ feet was a servant’s job. So you can imagine the disciples’ surprise when their Master knelt down to do the work. In fact, this wasn’t simply a surprise, it was actually embarrassing to them.
Think about it like this. Imagine you have a famous guest who’s arrived at your house to eat dinner. This is someone you respect, admire, and want to emulate. The kind of person who you’d give up pretty much anything to spend some time around. When they arrive at your house to eat, however, they ask to use your bathroom. You point them in the right direction. But you soon grow uncomfortable, because ten minutes go by before they finally come out! Unsure, you ask if everything is okay. They reply, “Oh yes, everything is wonderful. But I noticed your toilet was very dirty, so I cleaned it for you.”
Wouldn’t you be horrified and embarrassed? Obviously you didn’t invite them over for dinner to clean your toilet—you invited them over to honor and learn from them.
This is exactly what Peter felt when Jesus knelt to wash his feet. So when Peter told Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet,” it’s easy to understand why. In fact, it sounds noble and even socially proper.
However, Jesus’s reply should reframe all of our minds. He says to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Jesus shows us that we should be needy, not noble. None of us can come to Jesus believing we don’t need washed. We come to Jesus not because we are worthy, but because of our desperation.
Are you prideful and noble with Jesus, or humble and needy?