Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” John 13:8.
The last several chapters of the Gospel according to John are some of the most rich, intricate and mysterious in the whole bible. The above portion is taken from the “Upper Room” account, where Jesus shares the passover meal with his disciples. John, the writer of this Gospel, was the the Beloved Disciple and had unique insight into Jesus’ emotions at this particular time. His Gospel records this phrase,
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Jesus knew exactly who he was in relationship to the Father. He knew that he was a beloved son, he knew that he was the Anointed One and he knew that the time had come to fulfill his purpose, redeem his people and establish his Kingdom. And what did Jesus do to celebrate this momentous occasion? He chose to strip down, take on the form of a servant and do the most humiliating task of his day – washing people’s feet.
It is at this point that we come to our opening verse. Jesus is making the rounds, washing his disciples’ feet, and Peter wants none of it. Then Jesus makes this wonderful statement, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
What fascinates me about this is that Jesus is King – and he knows it! What self-abasing rituals do kings of the earth make their subjects go through to declare their allegiance? Kissing rings, kissing feet, groveling in the dust – these are all things that kings have made their subjects do. But Jesus is the only King I know of who flips that completely around, who declares his right to rule by serving himself. It is allowing Jesus to do this most unusual and intimate work to us that brings us into his Kingdom, not the other way around.
So many people want to work so hard for God. They want to declare their allegiance to Christ by working longer and harder hours, working through religious checklists and filling their lives with business. And yet… Jesus tells us is to let him wash us. We have to be still, we have to be humble. We have to declare our inability to clean ourselves. We have to declare our poverty and our dependance and let him be our strength.