Wednesday, July 6, 2011


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 are clean."    -- John 13:8-11

I am still thinking about repentance and confession and forgiveness, and these words of Jesus give me some new insights.  This living parable is clearly more than just a tale of Jesus performing a service for his disciples.  There is just too much puzzling language about cleanliness and belonging.  The specific act of service is important here.  Jesus is making a connection between the act of cleansing and forgiveness.

In these few sentences, a distinction is made between those who are entirely clean, and those who are not.  Peter is described by Jesus as "clean", while John makes it clear that the one whom Jesus is referring to as not "clean" is Judas.  We know that Judas is about to betray Jesus by turning him over to the authorities, but Peter, too, will betray Jesus by denying him.  So it is not necessarily the act itself that makes the person unclean.

We know also that Peter is bound to Jesus, heart and soul, though he is sometimes wrong-headed and weak-minded.  Peter's intentions and love for Jesus are pure.  This is what makes him clean.  Judas, on the other hand, plots to find a way to destroy Jesus.  His intentions are impure and his heart is filled with hatred.  This is what makes Judas unclean.   Yet, Jesus bathes all of the disciples' feet.  If we think of this act of cleansing as a metaphor for forgiveness of the particular sins they are about to commit, then we see that Jesus forgives both men -- just as he will forgive those who crucify him.

It is interesting to imagine what is going through the minds of the disciples as he does this.  We know that, at first, Peter balks.  He cannot imagine his master performing such a humbling act for him.  The role of master and servant has been reversed, and Peter knows he is not Jesus' master.  But, Peter must accept.  Though Peter does not understand what Jesus is teaching him about the future, he hears Jesus say, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."  Peter does not want to be separated from Jesus.
Jesus knows Peter will betray him.  And he is letting him know that he is clean and forgiven, in advance.  After the betrayal, Peter must return to God and accept Jesus' forgiveness in order be fully reconciled to him, and complete the tasks that Jesus has planned for him.  If Peter cannot accept forgiveness, he will be lost.  Just as Judas will be lost.

As when John the Baptist is asked to baptize Jesus, Jesus is teaching his disciples what they must also do for each other.  They must not only seek forgiveness, the most spiritually humbling act one person can ever face, but they must also forgive one another.  For one is not above another.  If Jesus, who is God's chosen one, can humble himself to forgive those who will trespass against him, so should we forgive each other, no matter how humbling this is.  We must forgive, and we must accept forgiveness.  Both acts require a fair measure of humility.

I say "a fair measure" because too much pride, as well as too much humility, can get in the way.  Too much pride is clearly as deterrent to asking for forgiveness, as well as accepting forgiveness.  But too much humility can also be a deterrent.  Jesus loved Judas, just as much as he loved Peter.  At the beginning of the passage in Chapter 11, John writes, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."  Jesus also forgave Judas, just as he forgave Peter.  Perhaps Judas did not understand this, or could not accept Jesus' forgiveness.  I wonder if he felt too unworthy.

Forgiving and accepting forgiveness is what binds people together in community, and what reconciles broken relationships.  Without it, we would not be able to hold on to those we love.

Dear God, please keep my heart open and soft, ever ready to forgive and be forgiven.  Love always, Pam


Tonjia Rolan said...

Pam. That is insightful. I enjoyed reading it. I love your words at the end about forgiveness binding us together.

I too have studied this parable. One of the main differences between Judas and Peter was that Judas wanted Christ dead, and made a sacrifice out of him. The blood of sacrifice is poured out at the foot of the altar. Those who sacrifice have feet that are defiled by the blood of the innocent they have sacrificed.
His apostles, who loved him, did not want him dead. They did not make a sacrifice of him. to them he was the words of eternal life. their feet were clean from the blood of his sacrifice, having been washed in his words, and not his blood.

Love Tonjia

Pamela Keane said...

Interesting! The analogy of the foot of the altar and the feet of the priests/disciples is thought-provoking.