If you knew you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do? No, really. Think about it. What would you do? Odds are your day would include time spent with family, friends, plenty of good food, maybe a fun adventure or two, and Tillamook Mudslide ice cream (okay, that last one is just me).
Did you know that Jesus had one of these moments? When he knew his time on earth was coming to a close? One of his closest friends, the Apostle John, describes it this way: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
What does Jesus do when he knows his “hour” is fast approaching? Does he pull out his “Son of God Bucket List” to see what he has yet to accomplish? Does he do something that blows the minds of the disciples? Well, no. But also yes.
What’s on that “Son of God Bucket List” anyway? The authors of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) give us the most comprehensive picture, of course, but you could also sum it up in one word: love. Notice how John himself summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus up until this point: “having loved his own who were in the world.” Three years of ministry packed into that one little phrase.
“YOU SHALL NEVER WASH MY FEET”
If you know the story, you’ll remember that right after this moment Jesus gets up from dinner, takes off outer garments, ties a towel around his waist, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet, which was the dirtiest part of the body in the ancient world (remember, no socks!). This extravagant, outrageous, seemingly unnecessary act of love was beyond the mental categories of the disciples. That Jesus, the eternal Son of God, would take on the lowliest task imaginable, was something they struggled to accept. It made them uncomfortable. How do we know? Because Peter straight up rebukes Jesus for it! “You shall never wash my feet,” he snaps back (John 13:8).
There’s a little bit of Peter in all of us, isn’t there? We sense Jesus loving us in the midst of our sin, our imperfections, our mess, and we get uncomfortable. We squirm and kick like a newborn baby. Often, we tend to guard ourselves from experiencing the love of Jesus not because we don’t want to be loved, but because the love of Jesus is unlike any love we have ever experienced. After all, how could someone so great (aka “God”) really care that much about me?
I married into a family that loves chocolate. In fact, they love chocolate more than most human beings. Morning, afternoon, evening, it doesn’t matter; chocolate is always the right choice. I vividly remember one time when they introduced me to a special flavor of ice cream (not Tillamook Mudslide, that was a separate revelation of grace) that was one of their seasonal favorites. Inside this ice cream was a massive fudge swirl. I had never seen or tasted anything like it. It was the grace of God in a bowl. They all got up for seconds after their first bowl and I followed suit.
This was not a smart move. You see, I hadn’t gone through the proper “chocolate conditioning” my wife and in-laws had. Over time, they had become the type of people that could do a second bowl of fudge ice cream. I was a bit overzealous and became sick as a result. But that didn’t stop me from subsequently putting together a “chocolate conditioning program”. As a result, I can now proudly (or ashamedly) say that a second bowl of fudge ice cream doesn’t send me to the couch; it sends me to the third heaven.
This is a silly example, of course. But here’s my point: don’t guard yourself from the love of Jesus. Receive it. Go back for seconds. It will be disorienting, you might feel sick at times, you will most definitely feel exposed, but you will always be safe.
After Peter refused the foot washing, Jesus tells him in emphatic fashion, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8). This is an interesting response, isn’t it? What’s Jesus getting at? Here’s what I think he’s saying: “Peter, it’s not my foot washing behavior that’s outrageous. It’s your behavior, your refusal to accept my love.” Ultimately, Peter’s “humility” was a form of arrogance. Refusing the love of Jesus was tantamount to refusing Jesus himself.
Once this sinks in, Peter quickly retorts back, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” We like to make fun of Peter here, but is this not the posture of a disciple? Elsewhere in John’s gospel, Jesus talks about this posture as “abiding” (John 15). Sticking close to Jesus. Asking for more. That’s the goal. Peter here is learning how to be a disciple by learning to receive the uncomfortable love of Jesus. It is impossible to be a disciple of Jesus if you are unwilling to receive the love of Jesus.
By including this story in his gospel, John hopes that readers like you and I will learn from Jesus’ foot washing as well. Spend some time at some point today in Peter’s shoes (or lack thereof). Imagine the King of Kings literally washing your feet. And then don’t object. Let him serve you. Let him love you. Your discipleship depends on it.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:9)