With the call to carry the good news of God’s reckless love to our neighbors comes a number of challenges as we resist the urge to insulate ourselves in the confines of our churches, small groups, and bible studies and live life with and among our neighbors. I thought I’d share some good news that’s been very encouraging to me as I’ve imperfectly sought to embrace the call to go and make disciples.

When you spend a lot of time with people who don’t think, act, live, and believe like you (or even care what you believe) it can be a very frustrating and difficult thing. This is especially true for those who, after being frustrated with their lack of missional intentionality, are just beginning to practice. I’ve experienced this in my life and still experience this. 

Often times my frailty, foolishness, and failures are front and center as I live life with others and seek to disciple people where they are. Specifics? Apathy, fear of man, human approval, and love of self (just to name a few) are more evident than ever and have caused me to do and say some really dumb things around people I’m getting to know. They’ve also caused me to shrink up and not walk in opportunities God was clearly putting right in front of me.

I’m trying to tell you that often times I fail and fall short in a variety of ways (commission, omission, and every other systematic category of sinning I left out). Anyone who has taken the great commission seriously knows what I’m talking about.  

A while back I came across a truth that I’ve clung to in moments like this. It is good news for losers on the go:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 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.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 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.” —John 13:6-10

In John 13 Jesus is in a private upper room with all twelve of his disciples sharing a passover meal. The disciples don’t know it, but Jesus is just hours away from being arrested, trial, flogging, and death. At least for now, all seems normal for these Jewish guys around a table for the passover celebration.  

Jesus, keenly aware of what’s about to transpire, knows these are the last moments he’ll spend with these guys before the very purpose of his coming, namely his death, plays out. 

As a way to drive home the weight of how Jesus is about to sacrificially serve a hell-bent world in his dying he takes on the role reserved for the lowest of servants in the middle of the meal and begins to wash the feet of everyone present. 

I’m sure what Jesus was doing made everyone uncomfortable, but only Peter had the courage to verbalize what everyone was thinking, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” I love Peter. He’s kind of like Uncle Paulie from the Rocky film series. He’s speaks loudly, unwisely, out of turn, and often ignorantly. A bit of comedy in a weighty moment.

Jesus tells Peter that there’s a larger reality beyond my serving you right now (alluding to the cross), one that he didn’t get at the moment. And then Jesus also reminds Peter that, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter concedes, but then responds like an overly emotional Jr. High School student would (or Uncle Paulie). Essentially, Peter says, “Fine. I’m so unworthy to be served by you; wash everything, then!”

Jesus—ever so patiently—responds this way, “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.”

Jesus tells Peter that he’s already clean (with an obvious reference to Judas the betrayer, the unclean one). We take Jesus’ declaration to Peter and the other ten disciples being “completely clean” as a reference to the spiritual cleanness, forgiveness and perfection that Peter already possesses due to the work that Jesus is just a few days away from accomplishing. In Jesus, we are perfectly righteous (2 Cor. 5:21), we are completely sanctified (Heb. 10:14), and we are washed and clean (1 Cor. 6:11). In Christ, we are the ones who have bathed! We have no need to wash ourselves again because we are completely immersed in Christ. Amen!

But, check this out. Jesus follows that up with another comforting truth. He says those who are bathed don’t need to wash, except for their feet. Jesus alludes to the fact here that even though we are perfect in him, as we go about our lives as the deeply flawed people that we are, our feet are going to get dirty. There will inevitably be times we live and act in the flesh (the independent self) instead of walk by the Spirit. 

Even the way Jesus says this seems sympathetic. Failure and selfishness are inevitable. You are as sure to sin as you go about on his mission as your feet are to get dirty as you walk outside (especially with first century foot gear). Jesus is not surprised by this. He’s the one who told us it would happen.

Your feet are going to get dirty, but remember, you are completely clean. You are perfect in Him. Such good news!

Now consider this: there is an obvious connection between the mission of God to carry good news to our neighbors and feet in the New Testament:

And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” —Romans 10:15      

So consider what Jesus is telling Peter here in light of the challenging task of living among our neighbors as salt and light:

  1. You’re clean. Perfect in Jesus because of what he’s done and declared of you.
  2. You’re going to fail. Failure in life (specifically in mission) is as inevitable as getting your feet dirty as you walk around outside.
  3. You’re in need of ongoing cleansing (forgiveness) for your dirty feet (deeds of the flesh).
  4. Remember and cling to #1

The good news is that in Jesus we have the promise from God to “remember our sins no more.” In Jesus he always stands ready and delighted to continually wash our feet that are dirty with frailty, foolishness, and other fleshy displays. We have forever forgiveness in Jesus while seeking to be on his mission of loving our neighbors and sharing good news.

Often times the tension, awkwardness, challenge, and straight up failure as disciple-makers is enough to cause people to run back into their Christian safe havens, never to return again. Sometimes the guilt of our failures while on mission is enough to cause us to never get back our there and try again. Our missional guilt paralyzes us. The gospel is the exact power we need to take a deep breath, know we’re loved, forgiven, and clean, and to get back on our feet and onto the missional journey God has for us. 

Tony Sorci