There is a comfortable place in being submissive to someone greater than us. Sure, to be a servant and be humble goes with humiliation often in Western culture, but with the status quo we know what to expect day by day. Bob Dylan said we got to serve somebody, but when those we serve breaks through the bubble of hierarchy and blesses us, the nature of shame makes us appreciate it but then walk away due to the power of the master or mistress at hand.
But imagine, we the pauper serving the king, are told by that same king that we are going to be given dignity and relationship with him. Even more, that the king will be our servant. If it is ingrained in us to be in servitude, we could even be scared since the king keeps boundaries of the world around us to be reliable. Will the world be topsy-turvy now?
Such was the problem of Simon Peter, when Jesus turns the tables like that in the Last Supper.
John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Peter spoke up when Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood saying they all had nowhere else to go but with Him. Even though he doubted and sank, Peter did walk on water for some minutes when asked.
But being washed on his feet? That is going too far.
Kind of funny when you think about how Peter being among those who baptized people for repentance. Yet the difference is that the baptizer is in a place of power but the foot washer is the slave dealing with the smell and the grime of the day for a master.
Jesus explained how this was a mystery they would understand later. It had to be later because the climax of the tension of grace and sin colliding was a few days away on the cross. The mystery of the foot washing is unveiled in the light of day in Christ being the savior of our grime or dirt in sin. With the cross as the magnifying glass for how to live fully, we should lay our lives down for each other as long as we keep the simplicity of the gospel in mind.
Peter needed this. He needed to know that there is going to be opportunities in God to follow this example. In a way he more than others because as the first pope he needed to be willing to put others above himself since the good news of the kingdom of this peculiar King from Nazareth is that He came to switch those very paradigms that we hold far too dear.