“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” And Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “No! You will never wash my feet.” “Unless I wash you,” Jesus answered, “you have no share with me.” And Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Peter does not understand what Jesus’ footwashing means. Jesus is not saying about a ritual practice or a purification regulation, they have thought, that makes them clean and pure before God that they are able to approach God and enter God’s temple.
“If I do not wash your feet,” Jesus said, “You will no longer be my disciples.” “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!” “No, you do not need to be washed except your feet.”
Peter was wrong to ask Jesus to wash not only his feet but also his hands and head. “Those who have taken a bath are completely clean and do not have to wash themselves, except for their feet. All of you are clean – all, except one.” “All, except one.” “Except one.” Yes, in some sense, Peter was absolutely right to ask Jesus to wash his hands and head too beyond washing his foot. And he should have asked him to wash not only his hands and head, but also his eyes, his ears, and his whole body, and his mind, heart, and soul too.
Origen of Alexandria, who is a Church Father and one of the earliest Christian theologians living in 3rd century prayed like this.
“O Jesus, my feet are dirty. Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, ‘If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you. Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship. And yet, what am I asking? It was well for Peter to ask you to wash his feet; for him that was all that was needed for him to be clean in every part. With me it is different; though you wash me now I shall still stand in need of that other washing, the cleansing you promised when you said, ‘There is a baptism I must needs be baptized with.’”
For him, Origen, like Peter, footwashing is not enough. We know, Jesus’ footwashing is not a ritual practice. It does not mean just washing someone’s foot literally. Yes, it signifies his forthcoming death on the cross, and also implies His baptism of suffering and death. It is enough as Jesus said. But, at the same time, not enough. For Peter, for other disciples, and for Origen of Alexandria, footwashing is enough and also not enough.
Jesus said, “All of you are clean – all, except one.” They are not Judas Iscariot, not the betrayer. But, they should have known, and some already knew, that in them, at the heart of their community, is there a small Judas, a small betrayer living. I am not the Judas. But, I need more. Not enough for me. In me, in here, is a betrayer, a Judas living. Whether we recognize it or not, whether we accept it or not, at the heart of us, at the heart of Christian community, is there a capability and possibility of betrayal. That’s why we are joining today, Maundy Thursday, in the rite of commemoration together repeatedly, in order to be cleansed by Jesus, the way of purification. That’s why we are participating in the baptism of Christ together repeatedly, in order to be immersed in Jesus’s suffering and death and to be resurrected with and in His resurrection. That’s why we are coming to Jesus’ new Passover table, in order to incorporate ourselves and our day by day living into His divine love and holy living to follow His new commandment to love one another as He has loved us.
Let us pray together. “O Jesus, our feet are dirty. Come and wash our feet. But, O Jesus, with us it is different; though you wash us now we all shall still stand in need of that other washing, the cleansing you promised when you said, ‘There is a baptism I must needs be baptized with.’ Which makes us all clean and pure before God, and which also makes a new birth and new life possible to us, your people coming in faith to You, Lord. Yes, we are able.
But with your help, O Jesus, we are able to drink the cup that you drink, be baptized with the baptism that you are baptized with. Help us, O Jesus, to walk the way of purification. Amen.”