Like I said before, this is one of the most meaningful scenes in the Gospels for me, and I really wanted to spend a couple of days on it. There are two major applications that I’ve noticed here, and we discussed one of them yesterday: The fact that Jesus—our Lord and Master—took upon himself the role of a slave in order to serve his disciples. Therefore I have no right to complain about any calling to serve.
But there’s another meaning in this passage, and it has to do with Peter’s short conversation with the Savior. Jesus is kneeling in front of him with a towel and water basin, and Peter strenuously objects. He knows—with a good understanding of who Jesus is and who he is—that it isn’t right for Jesus to be serving him. Jesus is the Lord, and everyone should be serving him. So Peter refuses the offer of having his feet washed.
Jesus impressed on him the absolute necessity of having this done: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” So Peter—as he often did—overreacts. “Well, if we’re actually going to do this, then wash my hands and head as well!”
Then the Lord makes a rather cryptic statement which I think we need to unpack: “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,” an obvious reference to Judas. So how do we interpret this?
I’m trying not to be dogmatic about something that isn’t explicitly explained in Scripture, so I’m open to another interpretation if someone provides it. Until then, here’s my understanding: Jesus is talking about two types of cleansing, and he’s not referring to the physical.
When someone comes to a saving faith in Christ, he’s cleansed from “head to toe” in the spiritual realm. All of his sins—past, present, and future—are covered by the blood of Jesus, and as far as God’s justice is concerned, that person is declared “totally righteous” in the final courtroom.
And this is a once-and-for-all cleansing. You have it one time, and then it’s done forever. This only needs to happen once. You can’t lose your salvation or give it away or throw it away. That’s why when Peter asked for his head and hands to be cleaned as well, Jesus told him he didn’t need it, since the Savior was relating what he was doing physically (with a basin and towel) to what he does for us in the spiritual realm, and for Peter’s whole body to be cleaned would violate the symbolism.
But we still need a foot-washing. As believers, we still sin. It doesn’t affect our position in Christ, but it does affect our relationship with him. Let’s say that Bill Gates has an argument with his son. The son and father exchange harsh words, and the son storms out. Then the son falls on hard times, and ends up eating Ramen Noodles in a seedy motel room, fighting off the rats and roaches. If you took blood out of the son and blood out of the father and tested for DNA, what would the test tell you? Duh, the test would say that the young man is still the son of Bill Gates. But is he living like a son of Bill Gates? Should a son of Bill Gates be fighting off roaches for Ramen Noodles? Of course not. What needs to happen is for the son and father to be reconciled. In our case, we need to approach our Father and confess to him that we've done wrong. Until then, the young man isn't living how a son of Bill Gates should live.
As often as I sin, I need my Savior to cleanse me. The reason this is so poignant for me is the image this story presents regarding my cleansing as a believer. When I do wrong, when I sin, when I disobey, he—the wounded party—stoops down in front of me. And he cleans the dirt off. Once again.
Lord Jesus, may I never take lightly what you do for me. It costs you. And you do it gladly. Thank you.