What It’s Like to be Loved by Jesus, pt 4

Continuing to reflect on Jesus’ love, displayed as He washes the disciples’ feet in John 13…

The room seems to have fallen completely silent, except for the splash of the water and the rustle of the towel. But when Jesus comes to Peter, he can’t restrain himself: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (v6) It’s an emphatic question in the original language, with emphasis on the pronouns: “YOU want to wash MY feet?” Jesus answers: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will.” (v7)

As He will explain in a moment, Jesus is using this action to point beyond itself to the cross—the ultimate demonstration of love and condescension. But these men don’t yet comprehend that their Messiah must die to save them; of course they aren’t going to understand this symbol points to that.

As for Peter, he doesn’t accept Jesus’ answer; he doubles down: “You shall never wash my feet.” (v8) Rendered literally, it’s a vehement and adamant protest: “Never will you wash my feet—forever!” Peter is thinking only on the level of social convention. He sees none of the deeper significance in the action—not love, not spiritual cleansing, not even the model of humble service.

But in fact, there’s a symbol at work here that is deeper than love and different from service. Jesus responds to Peter’s protest: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (v9) It’s a clear indication that what Jesus is doing here has deeper meaning beyond just cleaning their feet. If that’s all that’s going on, His response betrays false humility: “I command you to let me be humble and wash your feet, or you’re fired!” What He’s saying is this: “Unless I cleanse your sin, you have no connection with me.”

As usual, Peter misunderstands and overreacts, asking Jesus to wash his whole body. Jesus replies: “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” (v10) He resists Peter’s attempt to distinguish himself from the rest of the disciples. Peter, like all the rest, needs to humbly accept this washing from Jesus; and Peter, like all the rest, needs only one washing from Jesus. In other words, the footwashing symbolizes Jesus’ cross work of cleansing us from sin—both once-for-all and every day.

So here it is, this other, precious aspect of what it means to be loved by Jesus: He cleanses you.