“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
If you were Jesus, and Peter had said to you, “No, you shall never wash my feet,” what would you have done? I think some of us might have said, “Fine, have it your way,” and moved on to the next disciple. My patience can be on a short fuse. I’m too eager to bypass the slightly resistant or reticent disciple. If I could be as patient with others, as Christ is patient with me, my ministry would be more faithful and fruitful.
In devotions one morning I read from Luke: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). I was a senior at Wheaton College at the time and working on plans for the coming year. After devotions I intended to write to Dr. Paul Han in Taiwan, who had invited me to teach at Chung Yuan Christian College in the Fall. I had it all worked out in my sophomoric spiritual mind. I’d thank him for his gracious invitation and tell him that I’d come in January, not September. I’d be there for the second semester. My excuse was that I wanted to work on my MA degree, but my real reason was that I was in love with Virginia, who was later to become my wife. I couldn’t imagine being apart from her for the summer and then flying off to Taiwan to teach for a year.
The only obstacle that morning to dictating to the Lord and Dr. Han my terms of commitment was the Word of God. There I was sitting at my little desk innocently reading about taking up my cross and following Jesus. I was reflecting naively on Luke’s description of wanna-be-disciples who so easily excused themselves from following Jesus. Like them, I was ready with my lame excuse, “I will follow you, Lord, BUT…” when suddenly it hit me. I was about to do the same thing! Of course Dr. Han wanted me in the Fall, that’s when teachers start the school year. I had prayed for weeks that the Lord would work out this opportunity and lead Dr. Han to invite me, but when it came time to accept the assignment, I was as willful as Peter. I will never forget that particular devotional time. I guess that’s why I’m sharing it with you forty years later. The meaning of the Word struck me with exceptional force. That morning I wrote to Dr. Han saying that I’d be there in the Fall.
Jesus worked with Peter patiently, as he works with you and me. He reasoned with Peter calmly, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8). The patience and humility of the Lord Jesus in the upper room is the prime example of how we should lead when we are surrounded by tension and confusion. That night, all the positive action belonged to Jesus. He served on bended knee, taught at the table, warned the weak, and in love, exposed his betrayer. He mentored Peter, like he disciples us, in love and wisdom. Like a parent with a toddler, Jesus helps us to take “baby steps” along the path of discipleship.
Every kind of evil surrounded this table fellowship: hatred, pride, self-righteousness, deception, betrayal, and denial. The upper room was no retreat from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But in the midst of all this high stress and deep anxiety, Jesus remained calm. We are not surprised. But note carefully the many ways that Jesus through his calm spirit and patient direction kept the evening focused on faithfulness. There was never any doubt as to who was in charge. Everything happened in an orderly fashion. The timing, location, and preparation for celebrating the Passover meal were under Jesus’ direction. He saved his anguished thoughts for Gethsemane; he reserved his agony of soul for communion with the Father. But in the upper room with his disciples, he was calm and patient, attending to their real needs. His leadership prevailed in the midst of the storm. Jesus persisted in loving Peter, patiently persuading and preparing him for what was coming.
Upper Room Reflection
How is Jesus’ patience with Peter a model for our patience with others?
Have you ever prided yourself on being patient with God, only to realize that it is God who is patient with you?
If you had been Peter, what would you have learned from this encounter with Jesus?
How can we effectively mentor younger disciples?