What would we expect Jesus to say or do on the night before his death? Explain how to keep the movement alive and organize the church? Repeat his teachings and check Matthew’s draft of the Sermon on the Mount to be sure they got it?
What Jesus does is surprising. He rises from the table, lays aside his robe, takes a towel and a water basin and starts washing the feet of his friends. Walking in sandals on dusty roads that donkeys and oxen share make this a daily necessity, but Peter speaks for everyone when he asks Jesus, “Why are you washing my feet?”
Being a servant was as unpopular then as now. Peter doesn’t want the primary requirement for being Jesus’ disciple to be a willingness to serve. He sees the enormity of what is happening in this moment, and this isn’t what Peter wants. He never planned to follow a servant. But Jesus leads with a towel.
Meeting someone who is the best at something often reveals how much we need to grow. We may consider ourselves unselfish until we see someone whose genuine care for others reveals our own mixed motives.
In a commencement address at McGill University, Rudyard Kipling told graduating seniors: “Someday you will meet someone who cares nothing for money, success, or fame. And then you will see how empty your own life is.”
That happens when we look at Jesus. If we don’t want to see our selfishness, we should not go anywhere near him. The closer we look at Christ, the more clearly we see the difference between us. When we really look at Christ, we understand why Peter protests, “Don’t wash my feet.” And we understand what Christ means for us to do, too.
What does this story about who Jesus is show you about yourself?
God, help me draw near to Christ, even as that reveals the great distance between us. Give me courage to pick up a towel and keep moving closer to you. Amen.