The Last Supper is an iconic part of Easter week. Sat in the upper room, Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples and reminds them of his imminent betrayal and death. He does this through instituting the sacrament of communion and by washing his disciples’ feet.
‘Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus 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.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’’ (John 13:4-17)
There is no mistaking the humility of Jesus in this story as he disrobes and literally takes on the role of a slave. Just as there is no mistaking the awkwardness of the disciples as Jesus takes their feet, one by one, and cleans off the muck and grime.
It’s easy to feel sympathy for Peter’s reaction. Here is Jesus, the one whom he loves, serves and follows, lowering himself in an act of service. It all feels the wrong way around. We might applaud Peter’s statement “You shall never wash my feet” as full of devotion. But this sentiment completely misunderstands the nature of our God, the depth of our need and the extent of His love, because it’s also full of hidden pride. As if Peter could get by without being washed at all.
Jesus’ response ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’ (v8) should cut through us, just as it cut through Peter. For there are things in our lives from which we simply cannot be free unless we allow Jesus to wash them.
The extent of our sin is far from skin deep; it contaminates us to our cores. We shouldn’t kid ourselves. Even the little decisions we make that put ourselves and other things above God have a corrupting and decaying influence on our relationship with Him, our relationships with others and with the world around us.
But Jesus’ action here in John 13 foreshadows his execution on the cross and is symbolic of the greater cleansing he achieved for us through his redemptive death.
- It is at the cross that we see the extent of God’s humility as he makes himself nothing for us.
- It is at the cross that we see the limit of our own efforts and our complete dependence on Jesus.
- It is at the cross that we see the fullness of his love, grace and mercy towards us.
- It is only by the cross that we can be truly clean.
Just as Jesus approached Peter, so he now approaches us, offering to wash us clean from all that pollutes our lives. Will you refuse him?
Questions for Reflection
Have you, like Peter, confused devotion for performance-based pride in your walk with Jesus? Are there things in your life you need to allow Jesus to wash clean?
Perhaps more than any other example in the Bible, John 13 has come to exemplify the biblical concept of servanthood. This call by Jesus to follow his serving example is repeated across all four Gospels (Mark 10:42-45, Matthew 20:25-28, Luke 22:25-27). As one in authority, Jesus served; so should his disciples serve. Are there ways in which you can emulate Jesus’ example of service of others in your life today?
I acknowledge all my pride and pretence before you, and confess the times I have put other things in your place.
Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ so that I could be washed clean. I rejoice that you have made a way for me to enjoy true life because of Jesus’ sacrifice for me.
Please give me the strength, grace and patience to serve others today, just as Jesus served me.
In his name I pray,
If you find yourself with some extra time today, you may want to read Mark 10:42-45, Matthew 20:25-28 and Luke 22:25-27 and reflect further on the theme of servanthood.
You may want to join us for one of our meetings over the Easter Weekend:
Good Friday. 3 April. 11.00-12.30. Pimlico Academy, SW1V 3AT
Easter Sunday. 5 April. 11.00-12.30. The Mermaid Theatre, EC4V 3DB