Every year the stories and meditations of Holy Week stir me in unexpected ways as the Spirit uses these stories and times to draw me closer to God. Some years its the triumphal entry, some years the empty tomb. But what struck me this year was the last supper and the washing of feet.
The scene is a familiar one. It’s the last night of Jesus’s life before the cross. Jesus desires to celebrate the Passover meal one last time with his disciples so he has them make preparations in the upper room and then they feast together. During the meal various activities and conversations take place, but one of the most famous is when Jesus washes the disciples feet. Jesus knows that he is God, and since part of being God is serving and loving others, Jesus gets up from his seat, grabs a towel and some water and starts washing the feet of his disciples. Later, he will say, “as I have done for you so you do for each other.” As image bearers of God, our responsibility is to love and serve others.
What struck me was the encounter with Peter during this episode. Peter does not like the thought of Jesus washing his feet. The reason is never given, but Peter refuses Jesus’s attempt to serve him. But notice Jesus’s response to Peter after Peter’s refusal, “unless I wash you, you have no share in me.” There was something in Peter’s refusal that showed a lack of commitment with Jesus. It’s never fully explained, but could it be that Peter refused because he believed he did not need Jesus’s help.
It seems to be a common human tendency in the world today to try and do everything on our own, not wanting help from others. Whether it’s because we don’t want to feel indebted to someone else, or we simply want to prove that we can take care of ourselves and provide for ourselves, we don’t want help. Asking for help is sometimes viewed as weakness. Allowing someone else to serve you means that you can not do it on your own. So we don’t stop for directions and we don’t ask others for help because we think we can, or must, do it on our own.
But this is a foolish tendency. Part of the reminder of Holy Week is that we can’t do it on our own. The cross and the empty tomb are very visible reminders that we can not save ourselves. We needed a Savior. Yet, so often we still act and live as if we believe that for the most part we can make it on our own, we just need Jesus and grace to help put us over the top. It’s as if we tell God, “let me see how much I can handle on my own, and if I can’t quite make it, then I’ll ask for help.”
Thus Peter’s refusal is not an act of humility, but a refusal of help. Jesus was offering to do a simple thing for Peter. But if Peter won’t accept such a simple service as having his feet washed, how will he ever accept all that we need God to do for us in order to survive.
The last supper and the washing of the disciples feet by Jesus is a reminder that we can not make it in life without Jesus. Jesus is constantly serving us. Jesus is constantly meeting our needs. Jesus, the Lord of the universe, is not just sitting in the throne room waiting for our praise, but is actively involved in the details of our lives to bless us and help us succeed. We can not do it on our own, so why do we try.
In Peter’s refusal I see my own defiance of at times thinking I can do it on my own. When Peter says, “Jesus, you’ll never wash my feet,” I hear myself saying, “no, don’t worry God, I got this.” And when Jesus reminds Peter that part of surrendering to God is recognizing our need for God to take care of us, I am reminded how desperately I need God.
As holy week comes to a close, I realize my own weakness of trying to be in charge, and in response I surrender and say, “Lord, I need you.”