Excerpt from The Jesus I Never Knew eBook by Philip Yancey.
There were many surprises in store for the disciples that evening [of the Last Supper] as they moved through the Passover ritual…
In the garb of a slave, [Jesus] bent over and washed the grime of Jerusalem from the disciples’ feet.
As I read John’s account, I keep coming back to a peculiar incident that interrupts the progress of the meal. “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power,” John begins with a flourish and then adds this incongruous completion: “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” In the garb of a slave, he then bent over and washed the grime of Jerusalem from the disciples’ feet.
What a strange way for the guest of honor to act during a final meal with his friends. What incomprehensible behavior from a ruler who would momentarily announce, “I confer on you a kingdom.” In those days, foot washing was considered so degrading that a master could not require it of a Jewish slave. Peter blanched at the provocation.
His own disciples were almost horrified by [Jesus's] behavior.
The scene of the foot washing stands out to author M. Scott Peck as one of the most significant events of Jesus’ life. “Until that moment the whole point of things had been for someone to get on top, and once he had gotten on top to stay on top or else attempt to get farther up. But here this man already on top — who was rabbi, teacher, master — suddenly got down on the bottom and began to wash the feet of his followers. In that one act Jesus symbolically overturned the whole social order. Hardly comprehending what was happening, even his own disciples were almost horrified by his behavior.”
Later that same evening a dispute arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Pointedly, Jesus did not deny the human instinct of competition and ambition. He simply redirected it: “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” That is when he proclaimed, “I confer on you a kingdom” — a kingdom, in other words, based on service and humility. In the foot washing, the disciples had seen a living tableau of what he meant. Following that example has not gotten any easier in two thousand years…
“Behold the man!” Pilate cried [the next day]. Behold the best example yet of humanity.
Jesus washes Peter’s feet.
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Question for Discussion: How do you feel when you picture Christ washing his disciples’ feet? Confusion, awe, disgust? Something else?
- Adam Forrest, Zondervan
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