Peter reluctantly agreed to let Jesus wash his feet but only after Jesus responded to his persistent objections with the rather startling statement: “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing” (John 13:8b, The Message). To the irascible fisherman that was unthinkable and so he relented: “Master! . . . Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!” (v. 9). In other words, do whatever is necessary for me to remain a part of what you are doing! At that moment, Peter surrendered his will for that of his Master.
Before that, what Peter thought and wanted did not line up with Christ’s purpose. Of course, this was not the first or the last time we would see this difference between the two (e.g., see Matthew 16:21-23). However, in Peter’s initial insistence in wanting Christ to do things his way, we see ourselves, in part, for who we really are. Like Peter, we see things from our perspective instead of God’s. We want to follow Christ, but on our terms. We want to worship, but on our terms. We want to pray, but on our terms. On Peter’s part, until he came face-to-face with the reality that his desires and Christ’s will were not the same, he was not prepared to give an inch of ground. The tradition of the time was that washing feet was the work of servants and here was Christ, his Lord and Master, wanting to wash his feet. With a resolve strengthened by strong feelings of disapproval, he made it clear, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!” (v. 8a). The created dictating to the Creator; the disciple instructing the Teacher; the servant standing opposed to his Lord and Master. As the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary on this verse puts it, “It is not humility to refuse what the Lord [stoops] to do for us, or to deny what He has done, but it is self-willed presumption.”
Our relationship with Christ is one in which He sets the terms for the relationship. Yet, how many times have we tried to “manipulate” Him into doing things our way? Scripture reminds us, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21, NIV). When our will collides with God’s will for us, it is our will that must surrender to His. In that tense moment in the upper room, Jesus spoke words that not only resonated then but continue to resonate over two thousand years later: “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.” In other words, “Peter, I hear your objections and I understand the reasoning behind them, but this is bigger than you, bigger than just washing your feet. In fact, it is not even about you. You do not understand what I am doing now, but I am here to do the will of God and if you are going to be a part of what I am doing, you are going to have to do it my way. You choose!” And we know how Peter chose.
What are your objections to Christ doing what He must do with you, in you, and through you to accomplish God’s purposes in the earth and in your life? Like it or not, if Christ is Lord and Master there is no other way but His (see Luke 6:46-49). British Protestant Christian missionary Hudson Taylor was on point when he said, “I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up asking Him to do His work through me.” The echo of His words still rings true, “If I don’t . . . you can’t.” If you listen closely, you will hear Him speaking to you. Will you let Him?