Do as I Did for You

Detail: El Greco Tears of St. Peter

Tears spill from his eyes as he looks to heaven in an act of anguish and atonement, revealing deep sadness, regret and shame. He has denied his friend and Lord three times. Hanging from his wrist are a set of keys, a reference to St Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus gave him the keys to His church.  The painting described is ‘The Tears of St Peter’ (1587-96) by El Greco.  Have a look at the detail here and notice the welling up in those eyes and how the sadness is depicted.

In Luke, Peter fulfilled the Lord’s prophecy of denial, all implicitly in the Lord’s presence. Then, in 22:61, Luke made his presence explicit: “Having turned, the Lord looked straight at Peter…” The full force of Peter’s indiscretion became complete; he left the stage to wail bitterly.

How often, in so many ways by denying love and compassion for others, do we also deny the Lord?

Earlier Peter had objected to Jesus’ washing of feet, he questioned the humbling (even humiliating) role of Jesus as a servant.  By this act, Jesus shows us a reason why He came: love for His followers. Because Jesus was sent by the Father, because He had the power to lay down His life and take it up again, because He was all-powerful like His Father, He could tie a towel around His waist and wash His followers’ feet. Because He was God, He could so humiliate Himself.  All for love.

Peter confused Jesus’ service with the hospitality of a Jewish host.  At that time, Jewish homes had jars filled with water for ritual cleansing. When Jews entered a home, they would use the water to wash their head and hands as a means to purify themselves (make themselves ritually “clean”; see John 2:6).  Jesus countered with a rejection of association, clearly something Peter cherished. Since one had to cleanse oneself before eating with friends at a gathering, Peter insisted Jesus wash His head and hands as a sign of ritual “cleansing”.  Still, Peter missed the point.

He was ritually “clean” since He had presumably done the washings.  But Jesus had added a new level of association.  No longer was ritual purification needed.  No, to be a follower meant something deeper.  A Christian willingly receives and gives service.  A Christian “washes the feet of others”, even those who would betray them.  After all, Jesus did wash the feet of Judas!

Jesus gave us a revelation in an example of service. When He washed His disciples’ feet, He showed them His Father, the God of love.  When He gave His command to “do as I did for you,” He gave us a responsibility to reveal the God of love through our love.

In a simple, humble act of service, Jesus revealed what sort of God we worship. And He gave us a command to act in the same way.  How do we plan to “wash the feet” of others this week?  How will this act of love help us to prepare for Easter?


Image: El Greco, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons