Peter is a natural leader, he’s spent three years sparring with Jesus, trying to show him the better way. Now here he is again, butting up against Jesus’s way. The water splashing over him, the others gaping as they look on, open-mouthed.
‘You don’t wash feet, Jesus. That’s not your job! You can’t do that. That’s demeaning.’
And Jesus, doing what he always does in these situations, keeps calm and looks Peter in the eye, unflinching, smiling even.
‘Peter, this way is not like anything you’ve seen before. This way of leading is all about serving. Don’t be like the bosses and mangers of this world who lord it over others. You can be more secure than that. You have a calling –to look after people, to lead them well. You know that folk are like sheep without a shepherd, so be a good one.’
He hands the towel and bowl to Peter.
‘Er… what am I supposed to do with this?’
‘You’ve seen me wash feet, Peter, now it’s your turn.’
‘You’re kidding. You’re having a laugh.’
‘No, it’s no good opting to follow me if you’re looking to wield power over others. If you want to do that, find another teacher. Another system.’
Later Peter would fall to his knees, but not to wash feet. To cry. To fall apart. As Jesus passed him by, a prisoner of the very systems he had come to challenge.
Perhaps he wept because he could not get his mind around this new way. This new style of leadership which looked all wrong. Didn’t look like authority at all. Perhaps because Peter had been banned from lashing out at the old systems, told to put away his sword. So now, how could he fight? How could he be strong? How could he cope with this extraordinary road he found himself on? He wants to be a hero, he wanted Jesus to be a hero, but Jesus looked like a victim now. And so his eyes were wet. And his head swam. And his knees buckled, and pretty soon he would run and hide and go back to the safer way. Fishing. The old job. His fears proved right. He was no disciple. He wasn’t made of the right stuff. Wasn’t good enough. He’d go back to fishing and fade away. Never be heard of again.
Unless that is… he should run splashing though the water and meet a carpenter on the beach who can fish better than he can. A carpenter with the power to forgive him and set him back on track into a better future.
John 13, Mark 14 v 66-72, John 21