It was the evening meal. Often a raucous event, tonight it was uncharacteristically quiet. The events of the past week were being replayed in the minds of each of the men at the table, especially in that of Simon Peter. The mood had shifted from the beginning of the week when their teacher and leader had been hailed as the King of Israel among shouts of Hosanna, to when Jesus took a whip to the money changers in the temple, causing anger and suspicion in the minds of many of the Pharisees. Peter worried that more violence was to come and while his trade was primarily peaceful and solitary, his mouth often got him in trouble. He was no stranger to a swinging fist on the docks.
And Jesus was talking about death a lot these days. Often in the shadowy stories that he told, but more than once he said it outright. One day Peter couldn’t stand to hear it, and he had, in typical Peter fashion, declared that it would never happen, not on his watch. The response from Jesus was somewhat shocking. One of his dearest friends turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” He called him an offense. He told him that he was not mindful of the things of God. The rebuke had been stern and left Peter speechless. It reminded him that he was not enough, that he could never be enough.
Jesus broke the silence by standing and taking off his robe. He went and found the foot washing basin, filling it with water from the nearby pitcher. He wrapped a towel around his waist and began moving around the table washing his disciples feet.
Peter was aghast. The man who he had followed for years, the one he called Rabbai, the one he believed was God’s own son, was coming to him not as his leader, but as his servant. This could not happen.
Peter was dirty. Days of walking along the roads, following Jesus all over the countryside left him consistently covered in a film of sweat and dust. The smell of the fish that signaled his position lingered on him no matter what he did. But it was more than just his physical appearance that was covered in grime. He knew that spiritually he was unclean as well. Years of religious upbringing had taught him this. There were those who were priests and those who were fishermen and only one of those groups was clean enough to speak to God. Peter was not among the chosen.
Jesus approached Peter, beginning to kneel at his feet. In a panic, Peter shouted, “You shall never wash my feet!”
That cry was more than just a denial that Jesus should touch something as filthy, as shit-stained, as rank as his feet. It was a cry that said, “I’m not good enough.”
Jesus looked up at him gently and said, “I must wash you so that you may be a part of me.”
Peter wanted that. He wanted to belong, to know the mind of this man he loved, the man that he followed. But he knew that his feet were not the only part that were dirty. He knew that the rituals of cleansing to be good enough weren’t limited to the lowest parts. No, he had to be completely cleansed, from head to toe. Maybe that would be enough. Maybe then he would be enough.
“Wash all of me. Not just my feet, but my hands. My head!”
Jesus put down the basin, rubbed his hands on the towel. He looked Peter square in the eye. He wanted the words to be heard. He wanted the words to be understood. He wanted the words to erase the shame, and fear, and rejection that Peter was carrying. He wanted the words to be the start of a new way of thinking.
He wanted Peter to know that he was accepted, that he was loved, that he was enough.
“You are clean.”