The Unworthy


Easter kind of snuck up on me this year. I didn’t have Easter baskets ready or a plan for our Easter meal. I had a dress but realized I needed a pedicure. All first world problems I know and trivial in the grand scheme of things. Not really in keeping with the true spirit of Easter – cue the same lament that Christmas usually brings. But the pedicure got me thinking about Jesus choosing to wash the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. 

As a reminder, Jesus gathered with his twelve disciples for the Passover meal. By this point in the narrative, Jesus knew that the authorities were seeking to silence him and that his death was the most likely result. Later that night, he would be arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. Before the meal though, he filled a basin with water and got on his knees to wash and dry his friends’ feet, a task usually reserved for the slaves of the household because people’s feet were filthy from the dust and lack of foot coverings. In so doing, he demonstrated once and for all servant leadership. When Jesus attempted to wash Peter’s feet, Peter refused saying the Lord would never wash his feet. Jesus replied, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”  

Peter, never one for nuance, responded, “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”

Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene…” Jesus continued, “So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.” (John 13:1- 17 (MSG)).

Peter argued with Jesus about washing his feet because Jesus was his Lord, and he didn’t want Jesus stooping to such a low position. Peter didn’t feel worthy. And he wasn’t. Peter didn’t deserve to have Jesus wash his feet, none of the disciples did. But I wonder if part of Peter’s protest was rooted in his experience with Jesus. If Jesus performed an act, he was probably going to turn around and tell his followers to do the same. He’d previously commissioned the twelve to preach and heal people. Maybe Peter was thinking “not again.”

Because if Jesus took the position of a servant that meant Peter would have to act as a servant to others who didn’t deserve it. Jesus commanded servant leadership for Peter and for us too. And that is not what we usually want to do. We can be judgmental in determining who we believe does or does not deserve our help or mercy. We pick and choose. But I’m confident Jesus was telling us that the choice is not ours to make. 

It’s easy to skip straight from Palm Sunday’s celebration when Jesus entered Jerusalem to Easter morning when Jesus was resurrected. We don’t like to linger in the tragedy of Holy Week or Jesus’ gruesome execution by the authorities. But when we spend time with Jesus and his followers in the days leading up to the crucifixion, we see that one of Jesus’ last acts was serving those who were unworthy. We are unworthy as well, just like Peter. We don’t deserve the grace Jesus freely gives to us. But Jesus showed us how to love by serving others, deserving or not. Jesus wants us to extend grace to others because he extended his grace to us first. When we find ourselves sitting in judgment of others, may we remember Jesus on his knees with our dirty feet in his hands. 

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