John 13 records the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet before the Last Supper. During that event, there is a curious exchange between Peter and Jesus which has always puzzled me.
“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.'” (John 13:6–8, ESV)
What is interesting about this is Jesus’ statement that if Peter does not submit to having his feet washed by Jesus, he has no part with Jesus.
I relate to Peter’s sense that it seems wrong to have the lesser served by the greater. On the surface, Jesus’ statement carries some difficulty, which may be why I missed the import of it in my many previous readings of this passage. Why would Peter have no share if his feet were not washed?
A thought comes to mind.
John tells us that “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). For the Christian, being loved by God is the source which energizes our love for others.
Jesus identified two great commands; the first is to love God (the vertical relationship) and the second is to love our neighbor (the horizontal). The established order of these commands is not only one of importance, but also one of sequence. Scripture and experience show me that love for neighbor (selfless, agape love) is made possible by establishment of the vertical relationship. It is love for God that fuels my love for others.
We need to experience the washing of grace before we can effectively administer grace to others.
For the rest of his life, Peter would have the memory of Jesus washing his feet. I wonder if that memory would be one that would buoy him up when things got difficult. The Christ, who later cheated death and rose from the grave, took Peter’s feet in his hands and washed them. Peter was served so that he could then go and serve others.
While we have not had the experience of physical foot washing, as Christians we have had the experience of receiving forgiveness for our sin and failure. That knowledge of forgiveness should be the engine that drives us to offer forgiveness to others. We have been served so that we can serve others.