All kinds of washing happen in scripture . . . the washing of Jesus’ feet with a woman’s tears . . . the washing of Jesus’ hair with annointing oil . . . the symbolic washing of bodies in baptism . . . washing of the feet in Genesis and in John, a simple act of cleaning up for supper . . . washing of animals in preparation for their sacrifice . . . washing of clothes in preparation to come before the presence of the Lord . . . washing as an act of healing, as with the blind man at Siloam . . .
And then there was the time in Matthew when Jesus and his disciples got in trouble with the Pharisees because they didn’t wash their hands . . . because they didn’t make themselves ritually pure before eating . . .
The washing of his disciple’s feet by Jesus was a very simple and routine act in the life of a Jew living in that time – comparable in our own time to washing our hands before dinner.
What, then, was so remarkable, that Peter refused to have his own feet washed? That Jesus, as leader, teacher and as host, did the washing himself, was extraordinary. . . there were servants for the lowly work of washing dirty feet. That’s how it seems the disciples saw it. . . but Jesus saw it very differently.
When I think of the love of this simple act from Jesus’ point of view, I am reminded of going to a Turkish Bath in Amman, Jordan. At the Turkish Bath, you are pampered beyond belief. After a shower and time in the sauna and before the massage, you are bathed. Lying on a marble slab, your body is scrubbed, but the last thing is the best – your face is washed. I don’t think anyone has washed my face for me since I was a child.
To have someone hold your head in their hands while they tenderly wash your face is to feel like a baby . . . safe, cherished, and utterly vulnerable.
How gently Jesus must have spoken to Peter, “Peter, unless you let me, I cannot love you. Will you let me?”