“Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father….Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”
Jesus must have shared his self-consciousness with John and explained to him that all that would happen to him was pre-ordained and not random or accidental. It was “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). He knew where he came from and where he was returning – “to the Father”.
Knowing who you are, your origin and destination, gives you a powerful sense of personal identity and fulfillment. This insight is a precious gift which Jesus wants us also to experience. We are identified with Jesus in his Passion. He is the Representative Human Being who suffers and dies for us, and we die with him. He shares with us his destiny. When the time comes for us to leave this world we should have the conviction that we go to the Father, and that we are returning to God.
In this moment of self-revelation, what does Jesus chose to say and to do? The Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17 gives us profound teaching and symbolic actions to reflect upon. He gives us the foot-washing of the disciples and the institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus broke in upon the ritual of the Passover feast. The washing of the feet was not the ordinary washing of the feet of guests. This was something new, something startling, something intended to arrest their attention. He took a towel and wrapped it around his waist. This was the badge and sign of slavery in his culture. They saw him assuming the badge of slavery. And he bent down, and poured the water; and began the washing of their feet.
He went first to Peter who protested: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” But Peter was not willing to wait until later to understand. He was not willing to let Jesus do what he wanted to do, for Peter’s own good, without an explanation.
“No, you shall never wash my feet.”
How, so often are we like Peter. Jesus wants to do something for us but we resist. We are not willing to be patient and to wait to know what Jesus is doing in our lives. We would rather be left alone, and be by-passed rather than be put in a position of having to receive something, or go through something that might humble ourselves. We want to be in control of events even if we might miss out on something that will bless us.
Jesus says to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Unless you let me do this small thing then you won’t let me be your Savior. Will you let me love on you? Will you let me cleanse you? Will you let me help you? Will you let me put my arms around you and hold you when you need me? Make up your mind Peter.
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” He realized that it was all or nothing and the thought that he should have no part with Jesus was intolerable.
Then again the words of Jesus tenderly corrected Peter and explained. His own were already clean, because they were his disciples. The act was symbolic of that which ever will be necessary, the cleansing of defilement contracted by the way, as we pass through our culture very day, and pick up that which fouls our minds and affects our behavior.
Then our Lord applied what he had done. First he asked a challenging question.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?”
Do you know what this means? I interrupted the Passover meal, took off my outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around my waist. I have taken the place of a slave, the lowest place of service possible. Do you know what I have done? Then, resuming the relationship of dignity and authority, he said,
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” As I have done, so ought you to do. What had he done? Stripped himself of dignity, taken the lowest place of a slave to serve them, in their highest interests. So ought we to do for each other; strip ourselves of all our dignities, and take the lowest places of service.
He ended with a beatitude,
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” In effect Jesus said, the theory of service is no use, it is its practice which is of value.
Peter must have learned this lesson well for he incorporates it into his own teaching. In 1 Peter 5:5 he writes,
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” He learned humility from the example of Jesus on that Passover night in the upper room. To “be clothed with” is being dressed in a knotted garment. It was the garment of a slave and of a prince. Whether the garment was a slave’s or a prince’s depended upon the material of which it was made.
Possibly Peter saw the knotted garment of slavery on Jesus, and before he was through, he saw it was the knotted garment of royalty. He teaches us to put on humility as a slave’s garment, and so learn to wear the garment of true royalty. He learned this in the upper room, when Jesus rose from the table, and wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed the feet of his disciples, both as Servant, and as Sovereign.
[Acknowledgments to G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945), Studies in the Four Gospels]