James kept his voice low. He pointed at the place where he wanted his brother to sit.
Expectations were high among the Twelve. It had been a spectacular week and they were filled with the heady emotions of great events. Although they had hoped that Yeshua would make his move sooner, Passover had come upon them and it could not be ignored.
In fact, it was anticipated eagerly. After all, the Passover Seder was a celebration of freedom. Freedom from slavery, freedom from Egypt, and now Rome. Freedom to be the people and the nation that they had dreamt of for so long. In their hearts the disciples were still singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“What do you think you’re doing?” The question came from Simon Peter.
Yochanan looked up at Simon Peter and then quickly away. He looked like a hen trapped in the hen house between two roosters. He moved as if to rise but his brother James grabbed his shoulder and pushed him down on the couch.
“It’s no affair of yours’ Peter. Yeshua told us to sit here.”
“What are you talking about? Since when have you two been given a place on each side of the Master? What about me? Where do I sit?” Simon Peter’s intense whisper intruded on the quiet conversations of the disciples as they waited for their host to make his final preparations before leaving. A few looked over at Simon Peter.
“Sit where you want. It´s no concern of mine,” James said. “We are sitting here.”
Yochanan tried to stand up and move away but his brother pushed him down again and Yochanan’s face flushed. The eyes of all the disciples were on them now and sides were being taken.
“Peter’s right,” Andrew said in defense of his brother, “he should sit beside Yeshua.” It was out in the open now and Simon Peter was already starting to feel foolish. What if Yeshua heard them arguing like this again?
At that moment Yeshua walked in, looked around at them but did not say a word. He went to the sideboard as the host left the room and removed his outer garment.
What was he up to?
He picked up a towel laying there and wrapped it around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, knelt down and, before anyone could protest, he began to wash Philip’s feet.
It was customary to ritually wash themselves from the eldest to the youngest in preparation for the Passover Seder. One of them, in the absence of the women, should have offered to do so.
“Master, don’t do this. Let me.” Philip voiced his protest, together with the others but Yeshua paid no heed.
Andrew was standing closest to Yeshua and made to take the pitcher of water from his hands but Yeshua ignored him, placed the pitcher on the other side of Phillip’s feet, away from Andrew and began to rigorously dry Philip’s feet with the cloth around his waist. Andrew looked around the room, searching for advice but nobody knew what to say or do.
Finally, they sat down on their couches in silence, each one taking the nearest one.
Yeshua started on the side of the room closest to the water basin, not at all concerned about who would be first or last, eldest or youngest. And the room was absolutely quiet.
As the long minutes ticked by, Yeshua continued his service until, finally, he came to Simon Peter.
“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
In the quietness, they could all hear the question though it was not more than a whisper. It was a question they all wanted to ask.
Yeshua began to pour water on Simon Peter´s feet. “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand,” he said.
Peter’s reaction seemed violent in that quiet atmosphere. He moved his feet away and allowed the water to spill on the cold stone floor. “You shall never wash my feet!”
Yeshua sat back on his haunches, put the pitcher down and rested his arm on his leg. He looked up at Peter briefly and then back down at his feet. With his free hand, he took hold of one of Peter´s feet and brought it closer and then the other, firmly, deliberately. “If I do not wash your feet,” he said, “you can have nothing to do with me.”
Harsh words. What did they say or do to deserve such words? Softly spoken perhaps, but harsh words nonetheless, firm and final.
It was not until much later that they understood what Yeshua meant, that this was the shame of the cross, that the One who is worthy must die for the unworthy, that the One they would call Master must serve his own servants. It is shameful for the servant to bear, knowing that he in his arrogance has caused it to be so, but without this service there is no salvation. And so shame must give way to love.
Not that they understood it all at the time, but the spirit can still do what the mind does not understand, and Simon Peter´s shame gave way to love for no other reason than that it was there. Love accepts the shame for the sake of gaining something better. It was a lesson that Simon Peter would soon learn in much more detail and with much more pain.
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter said with quiet fervor, “not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”
Yeshua smiled, but said, “No one who has taken a bath needs washing. He is clean all over. You, too, are clean.” He paused, and then said quietly. “Although not all of you are.”
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Footnotes and references included in original manuscript.