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Jesus and his disciples were sharing an evening meal shortly before Passover. Jesus knew it was almost time to leave this world and return to the Father, but he loved his followers deeply and wanted to show them this in a way they would remember. Not only that, he wanted them to learn that they must be servants to one another.
He knew that he had all power and authority from the Father, and he did something extraordinary and very unexpected. Quietly, he left the table and removed his outer robe and possibly his tunic too. Every eye would have been watching him and every mind wondering, 'What is the Master doing?'
Jesus picked up a towel and wrapped it around his waist, then he filled a bowl with water and started washing the disciple's feet and drying them on the towel. This was the humbling and degrading work of a lowly servant; feet were regarded as lacking in honour, dusty as they would have been from the road. To this day Muslims remove their shoes before entering a mosque, and throwing shoes at someone is a calculated insult. The disciples seem to have taken Jesus' unexpected behaviour quietly and without making a fuss. But then Jesus comes to Peter.
Peter was clearly one of those people who just said what was on his mind when others would ponder it quietly. He was not afraid to be wrong. So he came right out with it, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' It doesn't make sense to Peter! It's not quite a refusal to be washed, but it comes pretty close. The question implies incredulity and a sense that this is an utterly inappropriate thing for Jesus to do. So Jesus explains, 'You don't understand this right now, but you will later.'
But Peter isn't ready to give way. He knows the truth, he is the servant, Jesus is the Master. What Jesus is doing is back to front. (It so often is!) Peter declares, probably loudly, that he will not allow Jesus to wash his feet. But then Jesus puts it more starkly, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me'.
This is too much for Peter who now declares he wants to be washed from head to toe! But the point of washing the feet is not to cleanse the whole body, it was a custom used to welcome honoured guests to your home (Luke 7:44). Jesus is welcoming the disciples into his Father's house, he is acting as a lowly servant in his Father's household and he is declaring the disciples to be honoured guests. In effect, he's saying that in his Father's house, they are more honoured than he is. This is an extraordinary statement and I suppose most of us feel about it much as Peter might have done. Yet this is what Jesus did!
But then Jesus clarifies everything for them, and for us. He explains that he has demonstrated servanthood towards them so that they will remember to do the same for one another. Father, may we always be ready to have servant hearts towards one another.
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