During supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’ (John 13.3-20)
Every office has them; every home has them – people who are too ‘posh to wash’, who are happy to dump their used coffee mug in the sink and allow someone else to wash it up. Something had gone wrong on this evening. It might have been the stress of the whole week, it may have been not quite knowing what was happening, it might have been that the room, though all set up, didn’t have a servant there to do it. But however it happened, there was no provision made for washing their feet as they came in off the dusty streets and took their place at the table.
If you have a bunch of people who crave the seats at the left and right hands of Jesus in the kingdom then I guess they are ‘too posh to wash’. Jesus notices – he notices everything. So it is he who gets up, takes off his outer garment and kneels and washes their feet. Graham Kendrick wrote that well loved hymn, ‘Servant King’, and that is what we now see in the Upper Room.
And of course they are mortified. Peter, as ever, is the one who has to make the loudest noise, objecting to what Jesus is doing. But their lack of thought, their lack of humility has been used by Jesus to teach us all a lesson.
In our office kitchen in the Cathedral we have a sign that says
This may be a community other people wash your feet
but you’re still expected to do your own washing up!
Jesus teaches us that none of us is ‘too posh to wash’, to take our part in life, to serve and to be served, to give and to receive. Remember that when you next leave your cup for someone else to deal with, remember that when you next pass a beggar in the street.
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.
St Ignatius Loyola