121: Jesus sets an example
Evening fell in Jerusalem. The stars began to shine. From the temple a pure note was sounded three times as a signal. It was the long, drawn-out sound of the silver trumpets, and it carried far across the city and the surrounding area. "Come, everything is ready. Come and eat the Passover meal. The day is over and the hour of the feast has arrived."
Jesus and ten of His disciples walked through the streets in the twilight. They reached the house where Peter and John were waiting and climbed the stairs to the upper room. They went inside and greeted the two waiting disciples. The disciples congregated near the door as if waiting for something. They stole uneasy glances at each other. The water was ready and so was the washcloth. There was no servant to wash their feet, as they had expected there would be. Who would be the servant? Who was willing to humble himself and kneel before the Master and the other disciples to wash the dust from their feet?
No one stepped forward to volunteer. No one was willing to bend over the basin and do the lowly work of a slave. Finally they shuffled to their places at the table without having their feet washed. Each disciple whispered to his neighbor, suggesting which of the twelve should have taken the lowly job.
Jesus sat in their midst. He thought about how this would be the last Passover He would celebrate on earth. He and His disciples would remember how the blood of the lamb had protected the people of God from death. But the next day He would become the true Passover lamb, and die for the sins of the world.
Jesus was deeply moved as He picked up the cup, blessed it, and passed it to His disciples. He looked at them and said, "I have a burning desire to eat this Passover with you before I undergo My suffering. I tell you that I will surely eat nothing more until the Kingdom of God has come."
Did the disciples hear those moving words properly? The whispering at the table did not stop. The disciples were still arguing about their status in relation to each other. That same old question had always divided them. That question had so often caused their Master disappointment.
Then something very unusual happened which they never forgot. It brought a sudden end to their whispering and arguing.
Jesus stood up and silently walked to the door. He took off His outer garment. He took a cloth that hung by the basin and tied it around Himself like an apron. He poured water into the basin, kneeled over like a slave in front of a disciple and began to wash his feet. He dried them with the apron.
The room was deathly still. The startled disciples looked in amazement as their Master did a slave's work. Each disciple had disdained that work. The Messiah, the Son of God, the King of heaven and earth, was willing to be regarded as the least of them all. Was it right for Him to humiliate Himself so much? Could the disciples permit this?
"No," thought Peter, red with shame when he saw Jesus kneeling before him. He pulled his dusty, sweaty feet back. He almost screamed as he said, "Lord, are You now going to wash my feet?"
Jesus looked at him calmly and answered, "Right now you do not understand what I am doing. Later you will understand."
Jesus was right: Peter didn't understand it at all. It did not occur to him that Jesus wanted to cleanse his heart as well as his feet. Deeply ashamed, he cried out, "You shall never wash my feet."
Jesus said earnestly, "If I do not wash you, you can have no more fellowship with Me."
Peter had to give in. No more fellowship with Jesus? He answered, "Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!"
That wasn't necessary. Each disciple had taken a bath before coming to this feast. Only their feet, which had walked along the dusty road, needed washing.
Therefore Jesus said, "A person who has had a bath needs to wash only his feet, for his whole body is clean." Then He added, "You are clean, but not every one of you."
Jesus knew which disciple would betray Him. He had washed Judas's feet, but Judas's heart remained closed to Him. That was why Jesus said, "You are not all clean."
When Jesus had put on His outer garment again, He took His place at the table and said to the disciples, "Do you understand what I have done? You call Me Master and Lord, and rightly so, for that's what I am. If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, shouldn't you wash each other's feet? I have given you an example. You must do just as I have done."
The disciples were silent. They hardly dared to raise their eyes to Jesus.
"Master, Master!" they thought. "Do You really love us that much? How often we have hurt You and disappointed You with our pride!"