Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.” - John 13:5-11
When I go to clean a room in my house, I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t feel clean to me unless I’ve gotten under all the furniture, behind and into the corners, and between the radiators and the walls. This leads often to the feeling of failure. I can’t live up to the law I’ve invented for myself.
Peter seems to be caught in a similar struggle. Peter protests at Jesus offer to wash his feet – but what about my hands and my head?! What about the corners?! Jesus offers again saying, “you need only to have your feet washed because you are completely clean.” For Peter, this seems impossible. Peter knows he’s sinful and those who are sinful are to follow the laws for purity – he needs a cleansing of head and heart. Peter is so caught up in the law that he misses the love being offered to him in Jesus actions.
You are already clean, Jesus tells Peter. You just need your feet washed. Not because foot washing cleanses you of sin but because in washing your feet you’re accepting the sacrificial love I have for you.
How often do we like Peter, or me with my house, get caught up in the rules we’ve invented for cleanliness? How often do we claim we’ve failed some invented standard? How often do we cut ourselves off from Jesus’ love for us because we claim we’re not a good enough Christian? The honest answer is - all of the time.
Yet, Jesus came to tell us that we already are claimed by God, already claimed by grace, already completely clean.
We’ll still sin. Our hearts and heads will need reminders to repent. But Jesus came to tell us that his love is for us now, exactly as we are. Receiving Jesus’ love for us is thus what marks us as Jesus’ own. The question for Peter and for us is will we accept the sacrificial love Jesus offers us exactly as we are? Will we drop the barriers we’ve invented between this great love and our lives and simply receive God’s love for us? Jesus is ready to wash our feet.