In John 13: 1-17 we find the account of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. When He got to Peter, Peter protested. No! “You shall never wash my feet”. I used to read this with an appreciation for Peter. Good for him! Know your place. Of course I missed the same point Peter did. The short conversation fascinates me. Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” To which Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
I love that response. Don’t we all desire this level of yearning for the Savior? The very thought of not being with Jesus caused Peter to not only turn a 180, but to double down as well. It’s not comfortable having someone you admire and respect serving you, but Peter would allow it if it meant more of that relationship.
I’ve always aspired to be more like Peter. To love Jesus the way he did, to be bold like he was… and then I realized… I’m just like Peter. If that sounds pompous, you may not know the whole story.
Consider another context. What if your boss walked in and said, “I want you to take my office”. Well this would just be weird. The boss would still be there. You would still be working for him. As nice as it may sound you just don’t like the thought of the social structure and hierarchy breaking down that way… what would your co-workers think? So you politely decline. You respect this boss and want to honor him. He deserves the nicest and biggest office. He follows up with, “if you don’t take my office, you can’t work here anymore”.
You depend on that salary, you love your job, and you have great relationships with all of your coworkers. Losing this job is about the last thing you could ever want. So with great jubilation you accept the bosses office and offer to take his car and salary too if that will help smooth things over.
I used to see this as a great relenting by Peter. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, but He would offer up his whole body if that meant getting to stay near the Savior. But I fear his response may have been more like the analogy I put above. When threatened to lose everything, wouldn’t we back pedal?
Think about what Peter was in position to lose if he didn’t allow Jesus to wash his feet. They were still a little confused about who Jesus was. Jesus was still potential king and ruler to them. Even in this passage He told Peter he didn’t understand what was going on now. The crowds loved Jesus, to the point that those against Him were scared. He performed miracles, he had a mission, there was great hope and promise. It’s not exactly a sacrifice to say, well in lieu of losing all of that, I’ll take your offer… and then some more as well.
Why is this worth writing about? Because the same Peter that said, “You shall never wash my feet” also said, “I will not deny you!”.
But he relented there as well. I can say that I am just like Peter because my mouth often works faster than my heart does. My words are one step ahead. I can promise and proclaim and take stands… with my words. But when the time comes to back them up, the rooster crows.
I’ve grown less impressed with Peter as I see the same failures in my own faith. I promise God I will listen and obey… and then the rooster crows again. I am certain I will never sin that way again… and the crowd starts to ask if I wasn’t with that man.
Strong words. Strong, heart felt, inspired words mean very little no matter how amazing they may sound. We can accept Jesus serving us, we can promise to stand with him in death, we can even offer to walk out on the water to join with Him… but if we can’t even acknowledge Him when it matters most, we are nothing but an ill-tuned instrument blowing noise in the wind.
I’m embarrassingly like Peter. I love Jesus. I speak boldly. But when it’s time to pick up my cross and follow in his footsteps, my actions can’t seem to match my words. My faith is not sustained.
It’s important to remember that Peter was never intended to be our role model. If we try to be like Peter, we may well be exactly that… and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a hard and fruitless life. Peter’s failures are meant to inspire, not his empty promises. Where he fell short is meant to be our spring board into faith. It was intended for us to follow Jesus. Our example is much higher than where we often set our sights.
Maybe Peter wasn’t being selfish when he asked Jesus to wash his head and hands too. But that doesn’t change that only seconds after proclaiming that Jesus would never wash him, water was splashing around his ankles. The enemy loves it when we make promises because they are so easy to wreck. God loves it when we act from the heart because that is where He tends to operate.