I consider myself an easy-going person. I am comfortable with a certain flexibility in my schedule. I go as the wind moves. I’m a free spirit; I take things as they come. That is until things don’t go my way. Then I get pouty. I get upset. I get sour and bitter. As much as an easy-going person I may be, the fact is, I like things the way I like them. I like my sense of control over my life.

This desire for control conflicts with the call to receive the Lordship of Jesus. This conflict is beautifully displayed in the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

The Kingship of Jesus

Make no mistake, at its heart, the washing of the disciples’ feet is a grand display of Christ’s kingship. John records that Jesus knew that his time had come (John 13:1) and that “the Father had put all things under his power” (v. 3).

Finally, the long-awaited time had come. Jesus had arrived at the moment when his Lordship and authority would be revealed. This was the Messianic age. This was where Christ’s kingship would be truly revealed.

Yet, instead of a thunderous expression of strength and divine might, Jesus silently gets up from the table and, in the act of audacious humility, takes off his outer clothing, wraps a towel around his waist, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet.

Just as the divine glory is set aside in the incarnation, here, the glory of Christ’s own humanity, as Rabbi, Messiah, and King, is set aside in service to the disciples.

We don’t exactly know how the other disciples reacted to such an extreme example of loving grace, but we do know that this didn’t go over well with Peter. Peter initially rejected the offering. “No,” said Peter, “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8).

Here he is, one of the closes of Jesus’ disciples, the rock upon which Christ will build the church, and he flatly rejects the offering of Christ. This isn’t a statement of confusion; this is a flat denial.

So, why would Peter reject Christ’s grace-filled offering?

Rejecting Christ’s Grace

It may be tempting to assert that Peter rejects Christ’s actions out of his extreme love for his Lord. In the ancient world, people walked long distances, and by the end of the day, their feet would be blistered, cracked, dirty, and sore.

Washing someone’s feet, therefore, was not the most pleasant of jobs. Thus, it was reserved for the lowest of slaves.

This is what makes the activity of Jesus so astounding. Jesus, Lord and Messiah, kneels, places people’s feet in his lap, washes them, and dries them.

Surely this is not the action of a king. Surely Jesus shouldn’t have to debase himself before his followers. Surely Jesus should not have to take such a humiliating position.

Is this what Peter is thinking? Does Peter think that when Jesus touches the dirty feet of humanity that it somehow cheapens his Messianic status?

Thus, with this thought playing in his mind, Peter rejects Christ’s action. It almost seems noble, doesn’t it?

To view Christ’s actions this way is to believe that the greatness of the Lord is beyond the dirt and the muck of our lives. Christ would stand immune from humanity, always separated, always distanced. Yet this would make the incarnation a mere mirage and not a true reality.

Or maybe Peter rejected the offering because of his own sense of sin. After all, let’s be honest, Peter isn’t the sharpest disciple in the toolbox. He speaks out of turn and shoots from the hip. He doesn’t always get the full nuances of what Jesus does.

In fact, in his first interaction with Jesus, Peter flatly says, “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  So maybe, Peter was so aware of his sinfulness that he knew he did not deserve such a loving act.

This would make sense. When Jesus presses Peter and says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” Peter erupts, “Then wash my hands and head too” (John 13:8-9). Not just my feet, Lord, I want it all. Peter assumes that a little sprinkle on his feet will not do the trick; his sin is too big, and his mistakes are too many.

We often pick on Peter in this account, but the truth is, we can all fall into the same trap. I often wonder what the other disciples thought as Jesus moved around the table. Did they try to gussy themselves up at that moment?

Did Andrew attempt to pre-emptively wipe off the dust from his soles? Did Bartholomew slyly dump water on his feet so they would not be as dirty when Jesus approached?

Do we approach Jesus that way? Like tidying up before the house cleaners come, do we sometimes try to shield Jesus from the dirt of our lives?

Do we feel that the love of Jesus is reserved for the put together and the pristine? Do we fear that no matter how much we try, we don’t measure up to the standard of Christ?

Wanting Control

Whether Peter’s rejection of Christ’s foot-washing was based on the greatness of his faith or the gamut of his failings, the underlying motivation is the same. Peter wanted to maintain a semblance of control in his relationship with Jesus.

He wanted to define the terms; he wanted to control the relationship. In essence, this is the same reaction that he gives when he hears of Christ’s eventual crucifixion, and he rebukes Jesus and says, “No, this will not happen” (Matthew 16:22).

Peter’s tendency at this moment is to keep Jesus at arms’ length. He keeps Jesus from getting too close. In doing so, Peter refuses to let Jesus be the Lord of his life.

Giving the entirety of our lives to Jesus can seem uncomfortable. Receiving Christ’s Lordship demands that we open ourselves to the penetrating gaze of Jesus.

It demands that we allow him to look at our lives and unearth things that we may not want to be unearthed or to address attitudes or behaviors that we may not actually want to be addressed.

Similarly, Jesus may call us to a service to which we feel ill-equipped. Jesus says to Peter, “Someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). The fact is, there may be many reasons why we may respond to Jesus’ love and grace. And curling up our feet and saying, “No, not like this.”

Yet if we do respond that way, we miss out on the transformative power of Jesus in our lives. Jesus says to Peter that “unless I wash you, you have no part of me” (John 13:8). Receiving the Lordship of Jesus is precisely the call of faith.

Christ comes to us in self-offering and in grace. He doesn’t force allegiance, his presence in our lives must be received, and received in the most intimate and heartfelt way possible.

As Christians, we are called to take Jesus into our lives and allow his presence to wash over us.  Let us open every corner of our lives to him, and dare to let Jesus be Jesus, for us.

For further reading:

Why Did Jesus Wash the Disciples’ Feet at Passover?

How Is Jesus a King Like No Other?

How Can I Identify Messianic Prophecies in the Old Testament?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Boonyachoat


SWN authorReverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.




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