13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:1-15)
“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.”
“The words echoed in Bartholomew’s ears. It had been such a long day. Really, the whole week had been oppressive. It weighed down on him and he could see it taking its toll on the other disciples. They were all weary with fear. Anxiety and nervousness had been hounding them for some time. It was with fear and trembling that they had decided to follow Jesus to Jerusalem this last time. Jesus spent the whole journey puzzling them with talk of the Son of Man being handed over, betrayed, and murdered. He said the chief priests and elders would do it, and every which way they turned there seemed to be a band of Pharisees badgering him.
This week had started off well enough. Crowds cheered as Jesus rode in on a donkey. They threw their coats and cut palms before him. And then he ran the money changers out of the temple. That didn’t seem to buy him many friends, not the powerful kind that can get you out of a jam. Jesus would teach in the temple day and night, the disciples were always playing crowd control, watching who was coming, who was going. Even then the Pharisees, the Priests and the Sadducees were able to break through the throngs and put Jesus to the test. He handled them well, but watching his back was getting wearisome. Jesus had confounded them with talk of the Son of David being the Lord, the Messiah being the cornerstone that was rejected, and the son of vineyard owner being stoned to death.
These thoughts swam in their heads as they went to and fro all day preparing for the Passover meal. As evening approached they all crammed into the upper room that had been prepared for them. They reclined to eat as Jesus spoke of this being the last time he would eat the Passover before it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And giving them a cup of wine he talked of more suffering. What could it mean that the Passover would be fulfilled in the kingdom of God? No weight lifted from the room as Jesus spoke. It seemed as if even the candles grew dim and the walls closed in on them as he spoke.
Bartholomew could feel the weight of his words as he gave them bread saying it was his body given for them. “Given for you,” he had said. How would his body be given for them? He hung on his Lord’s words. “This cup that is poured out for is the New Testament in my blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” A New Testament in his blood? So he did mean to fulfill the Passover, the Old Testament that God had made with his people Israel when the blood of a lamb had saved them all from the angel of death, and broke their bonds to slavery.
Bartholomew drank the wine as he pondered what it all meant. “My Blood,” “Of the New Testament,” “poured out.” The image of sheep in the temple, their throats slit and the blood gushing into cups the priests were holding. The lambs didn’t move, cup after cup of blood splattered on the horns of the altar, pooling on the pavement and running into the trenches below the horns. And then he could hear the words of the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” “Have mercy on us,” were the only words Bartholomew could think to say as the gravity and meaning poured in on him. “Have mercy, Lord.” “For the forgiveness of sins,” the words reverberated, as he heard Jesus say again, “do this in remembrance of me. “
Just then Jesus left the table. He crossed the room, tied a towel around his waist, poured water into the wash basin left by the door for travelers to wash their feet. He could hear the Baptist prophesying at the Jordan now, “One who is among you, whose sandal I am unworthy to untie…”
Bartholomew jerked from a trance as Jesus untied his sandal. Puzzled he watched, to struck for words. Never in all his days wandering with Jesus had Bartholomew washed his Lord’s feet. Of all the disciples Matthew had come closest the night Jesus called him into service, when Matthews servant girl washed all their feet as the feast was being prepared. Now Jesus was washing his feet. He hadn’t thought of it as they came in that evening. The cool water almost relaxed him as it washed away dust and grime from his sweaty feet. The evening air now began to soothe the throb as Jesus toweled them dry. Dumbfounded he watched as Jesus moved from man to man. He simply had no words. He could see agitation stirring as Jesus approached Peter. Peter seemed indignant, almost as John the Baptist had been when Jesus approached him to be baptized in the Jordan.
“Lord, do you wash my feet?!” Truthfully they had all thought and felt what Peter had said. But it was always Peter who said it. Peter was the one who would demand explanation. He meant what he said in love and out of respect, even if it sounded a bit impertinent. If a Lord wanted to wash a slave’s feet, who was the slave to question the propriety of it all?
Jesus muttered something about understanding to come later. Peter was adamant. “Lord, you will never wash my feet!” It was so hard for him to see, too humiliating. But Jesus told him, “If I do not wash you, you shall have no share with me.”
“No share with me,” letting Christ wash you, was this then the price of admission to the kingdom of God? He could remember now that conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus back when all this started, when he and the rest of them were still baptizing with the Baptist by the Jordan. Before the Baptist had been taken by Herod and killed. Jesus told Nicodemus no one could enter the kingdom of heaven having not been born of water and the Spirit. “No share with me…”
Bartholomew smirked now as Peter’s impertinence caught up to him, and he had to back track. Peter was always saying too much, going just a bit too far, but the disciples loved him for it. He saved them the embarrassment of having to ask for themselves. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”
But Jesus answered that he who had been bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet. It was true. One could go a while without bathing, but the feet always got dirty walking along the roads. The feet seemed to need constant washing if they were to stay clean. “He who has been bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.”
Now Bartholomew remembered, “The forgiveness of sins.” Yes he had heard those words once when water poured over him. He remembered then the prophecy of Ezekiel about the clean water being sprinkled, and the Holy Spirit being given. He knew he had been made clean then, given a clean heart of flesh. “Do this often in remembrance of me,” Jesus had said as he broke the bread and gave the cup. “For the forgiveness of sins,” he could remember. Yes, do this often in remembrance of me, because one cannot walk long in this world without his feet getting dirty. Yes, he would do it often. His heart and conscience, like his feet, were in constant need of cleansing. This he would now let the Lord do with his body and blood often. Yes, this he understood.