Today is the day Christians celebrate The Last Supper. Jesus modeled how to be a servant to others by washing the feet of his disciples. In an era of dusty roads and no automobiles, washing the feet of a guest was a thoughtful way of making someone feel welcome. This action, usually performed by servants, meant that the one washing had to kneel at the feet of the one being washed. Peter, not wanting to be see Jesus in such a demeaning position, argued with Jesus about the situation:
John 13: 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 4 and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; 5 he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 ‘Never!’ said Peter. ‘You shall never wash my feet.’
Peter had been chosen to lead the Church to come, to “feed the flock,” and here he was arguing with Jesus about something so small as washing the dust off someone’s feet! I’m sure Jesus was more than a little exasperated. His time was drawing short, and he had so much to tell them, so much to share, and here was Peter being, well, Peter.
[In my class, one of the first things we do is study personality types. The descriptions we use are from a book called Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. (A great read, by the way.) She uses an ancient Greek method, assigning body fluids to the types. Briefly, the types are:
Choleric: You call on cholerics when you want something done. They are self motivated and often charismatic. They can be bossy. They focus on the bottom line. The extreme is “my way or the highway” followed by a quick kick in the rump.
Sanguine: Emotional highs and lows rule the sanguine. Popular, outgoing, and fun, they can – and often are – the life of the party. If a sanguine is upset, just wait ten minutes for the emotional roller coaster to move to the next hill. People are naturally drawn to sanguines. The extreme sanguine can never find the car keys. Imagine a ditzy blonde at a party.
Melancholy: These types are methodical, careful, and detail oriented. They like everything in its place, and have a strong sense of how the world should be. Deep, long lows are a characteristic of melancholies. They carry grudges well. Artists and engineers are usually melancholy types.
Phlegmatic: These people tend to float through life. They are even tempered and make great peacemakers. They dislike conflict. In case of fire, find a phlegmatic. He’ll lead you out of the building without panic. The extreme phlegmatic is lazy and unambitious. Like a certain relative to remain unnamed.
Now we all have some combination of all four types, but usually one or two are dominant. Natural born leaders are choleric/sanguine combinations. ]
Back to our story – Jesus wants to make an important point by washing feet. Peter cannot imagine Jesus humbling himself like this! Jesus washed other feet before arriving at Peter, and I can imagine Peter standing there, dumfounded, mouth hanging open, until he is faced with Jesus on the floor in front of him, reaching for a foot. He begins to resist Jesus’ efforts, and argues with him. Peter has already declared Jesus “Lord,” yet here he is, arguing with Him!
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 ‘Never!’ said Peter. ‘You shall never wash my feet.’
Now, if I were Jesus, I’d give the whippersnapper a hard backhand to the mouth and shut him up. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not God; I wouldn’t have the patience. But then, if I were God, I guess I would. (That’s a philosophical discussion to have later.) Anyway, here’s Jesus, trying to teach something important, and there’s Peter, totally not getting it and slowing Jesus down and wasting his precious time. I’m sure Jesus heaved a sigh, trying to restrain himself a bit. How does he respond to Peter? Peter has a lot of sanguine, after all, and sometimes they aren’t very rational. But that same personality trait would be very helpful when His Church was started. So, with great patience, as with a child, Jesus tries to explain how important this small act is. Peter reacts like a typical sanguine. He’s already jumped rather impetuously out of a boat, after all. He knows about getting wet:
Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said, 9 ‘Well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’
I’m sure there were a few chuckles. James thinks “There goes Peter again! Never does anything by half!” There are a few quick glances between the apostles. Peter can be so fun, and so funny! A few wonder if Jesus will dump the bowl of now-dirty water over Peter’s head. Jesus replies:
10 Jesus said, ‘No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’
In other words, “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Jesus continues with to finish his task, while the apostles watch, then he explains himself:
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you? 13 You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. 14 If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet.15 I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.16 ‘In all truth I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. 17 ‘Now that you know this, blessed are you if you behave accordingly.
Jesus did other vastly important work that night, but by the simple act of washing someone’s feet, he gave us a great example of the beauty of service. A proud man would not humble himself so, and proud men do not share in His inheritance.
Thursday night, he was at the feet of the disciples.
Friday afternoon, he was on the cross, and his disciples were at His feet.
Both were acts of holiness. Both were acts of a loving servant.