6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
(John 13:6-17 NIV)
From Luke’s Gospel, we know that even at the Last Supper, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them (Luke 22:24). Jesus simply got up from the meal, picked up the basin and towel, and proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet.
In today’s passage, Jesus comes to Peter next. This passage is only the second time we have heard from Peter in John’s Gospel. Peter questions Jesus, shocked that Jesus would wash his feet. From Peter’s confession of Christ as Messiah (John 6:68), we know that Peter knew Jesus was God’s Son. Peter is likely thinking that he should be washing the Lord’s feet, not the other way around. Peter was no doubt part of the back-and-forth bantering about who was the greatest among them. Seeing Jesus kneeling before him, Peter is likely embarrassed about the conversation and what is about to happen.
When Peter tries to stop Jesus from washing his feet, Jesus responds metaphorically, stating that unless He washed Peter’s feet, Peter would have no part of Jesus. Peter, with his expected black-and-white personality, then asks the Lord to clean all of him. After all, if a little is good, a lot is even better, correct? Jesus responds wisely – only Peter’s feet need washing.
In verses 12 – 17, Jesus sits back down at the table to explain and apply this object lesson. Verse 15 is the key: Jesus demonstrated the example of serving one another and told His disciples to do likewise.
Jesus starts verse 16 with “Very truly I tell you… (“Verily, verily I say unto you [KJV]), so we know this is critical. Jesus explains the pecking order. No servant (the disciples) are greater than their master (Jesus), and no messenger (Jesus) is greater than the one who sent him (the Father). If Jesus washed their feet as an example of serving one another, then they must serve one another as well. As we look ahead in the Gospels and the book of Acts, we never hear about another squabble about who is greatest among them.
So what are our faith lessons, our takeaways from today’s lesson?
First, humility and servitude are the keys to greatness. If the Lord of the Universe shows us by example what it means to serve one another by taking on the job of the lowliest house servant, then we need to pay attention and do likewise.
Second, Jesus promises a blessing if we follow His example and serve one another. There is joy in serving Jesus by serving others, even in the lowliest of tasks.