The God Who Washes Our Feet

What an amazing week it must have been for the disciples leading up to Easter morning.  With the intensity growing each day, they must have felt the anticipation of something great on the immediate horizon.  Jesus had made an intentional and unambiguous gesture on Palm Sunday riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and in refusing to silence the crowd as they cheered and called him the messiah.  As they had hoped and anticipated, He was making his kingship public and they must have felt that their three years of confusing discipleship were finally beginning to move to their climax.  And yet there were still causes for confusion amidst all the excitement.

For one, just after the exhilarating event of entering Jerusalem as king, according to John’s account, Jesus began to speak about his glorious moment.  “Now is the time for the Son of man to be glorified…,” He said. How this must have excited his faithful followers who had left everything because of their belief that He was the long expected deliverer of His people.  But then Jesus went on, “…and now my soul is troubled, but what shall I say, Father deliver me from this hour? No! It is for this very hour that I have come.”  What on Earth could he mean by these words?  Why, in the moments before his being glorified, would his soul be troubled even to the extent that he would suggest the idea of wanting to be delivered from it? He then went on to talk about a seed needing to fall to the ground and die if it is to bear any fruit.  What could this possibly have to do with glory or with His claiming his rightful throne?

The week became more confusing the closer it got to Good Friday.  By Thursday night it must have been clear that whatever hopes they had of a royal coronation were fading quickly and Jesus did not seem to be pursuing it.  "What was the whole Palm Sunday event about anyway?" they must have thought.  And so they sat down together for a passover meal which must have gotten weird quickly as Jesus inserted himself into the ceremony of the meal, declaring that the bread was his broken body and the wine was His spilled blood and that they must feed upon him in hope of their deliverance even as their fathers had fed upon the lamb whose blood was shed for their deliverance from Pharaoh centuries before.  

As shocking as Jesus’ revolutionary version of the Passover was however, the baffling behavior was not over, for Jesus then rose from the table, poured water into a bowl and began to wash his disciple’s feet.  For Peter this finally crossed the line and as he had done earlier at Caesarea Philippi he told Jesus “No! It shall never be!”  Peter did not understand why Jesus refused to act like a king, but he certainly was not going to play along.  He knew that servants wash the king's feet, not vice versa.  At least that is how the kings of all the other nations did it and like his fathers before him, in the days of Samuel, he wanted a king like the other nations.  Jesus of course was nothing of the sort.

Peter thought he understood what a true king looked like, but Jesus knew that his idolatrous notions of kingship and glory had to be broken if he was ever to become a partaker of the true glory of the Kingdom of God.  And so he told Peter that if he would not allow him to wash his feet, then he could have nothing to do with him.  For, if Peter could not handle the notion of his king humbling himself to wash his dirty feet, then he could never possibly handle the king suffering the humiliating death of the cross on his behalf.  And therefore, Maundy Thursday serves as a necessary prelude to Good Friday.  In order for us to understand glory as God would have us, we must see it demonstrated in the washing of dirty feet and ultimately and most clearly in the horrors of Golgatha.  

But if Peter was not prepared for this idol shattering revelation of glory, then he was certainly not prepared for the still hidden, but greater fact of Jesus’ identity.  For even more shocking and offensive than the notion of the king washing our feet and dying on a brutal cross is the reality of our God doing it.  That is, we must allow these two amazing days that bring Holy week to an end,  to reshape not only our understanding of kingship and glory, but of God Himself.  For, it was not just Peter’s king stooping to wash his feet, but Peter’s God.  And it was not just Peter’s king hanging, bloody and beaten upon a cross for us, but it was Peter’s God.  Therefore, Holy Thursday and Good Friday teach us that Just as we have a king unlike any of the other nations, so we have a God unlike any of their god’s.  As Edward Shillito writes in his poem, Jesus of the Scars,  "The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;  But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,  And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.