John 10v8-11 recounts this exchange:
(Peter ) “You shall never wash my feet.”
(Jesus) “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
(Peter) “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
(Jesus ) “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
While all of the other disciples were happy for Jesus to wash their feet , Peter refuses. Although it is not clear why he does this, his over-the-top counter response to Jesus seconds later in which he instructs him to wash his head and hands as well, says something of how Peter was open to correction and ready to change his perspective in an instant.
One possible explanation for Peter’s initial refusal to be washed may have come from his understanding of who Jesus was and his mission. While all of the disciples struggled to grasp Jesus’ teaching and what he was telling them about himself, Peter was the first to recognise him as the Christ. Moreover, Peter was also present at the transfiguration and it is likely he thought it unworthy of Jesus to degrade himself in this way by washing feet.
Of course, what Jesus was actually demonstrating in the washing of the disciples’ feet was that just as they had been washed and served by someone greater than themselves, so they too should serve others in the same way. Living examples of the change being wrought in people’s hearts and lives through God’s incoming Kingdom. A change that will in turn affect and challenge societal norms.
And what of the disciples in this- did they take this lesson to heart?
Well yes! In Acts 6, the disciples are later called upon to intervene to deal with a problem with the distribution of food to the widows. In the wake of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ discipoles – Apostles as they were now called – could have made a case that others others should intervene. After all, their calling was to go out and telling them the good news of Jesus. Instead – for a season – they put into practice what Jesus had shown them and served the widows in the way a leader in the Kingdom of Christ should do. Something God calls each of us to aspire to.