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§ 266. Christ washes the Disciples’ Feet. Conversation with Peter in regard to it. (John, xiii., 2-16.)

In washing the disciples’ feet, Christ obviously intended to impress vividly and permanently upon their minds, by means of a specific act, a general truth; and to remove those carnal expectations of a secular kingdom, and the selfishness necessarily connected therewith, which were not yet wholly banished from their minds.716716   Cf. p. 352, on Luke, xxii., 26, 27. I cannot assert, with Gförer, that this passage is unmeaning, unless interpreted in view of the symbolic act: the word διακονεῖν, might apply to his whole life, as devoted to the service of others (cf. Matt., xx., 28). But the form of the passage in Luke certainly appears to imply an allusion to the symbolic act which John records, The thought contained in it is the same as that in John, xiii., 13-16.

Such an act, on the part of the Divine Master, must doubtless have surprised more than one of the disciples. That He, the object of their deepest reverence and love, should do for them so lowly a service, may well have been a surprise and a contradiction to their feelings. Yet that same reverence prevented them from resisting his will. But the fiery and impetuous Peter could not so command his feelings: “Lord, 387dost thou wash my feet?” Even when Christ told him, in view of this reluctance, that he should know the import of the act thereafter, he was not satisfied; until, at last, the Saviour rebuked his self-will with the declaration, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me:” And this was to be taken literally, for this single case was a test of the state. of heart essential for union with Christ: it was necessary for Peter to show forth a complete renunciation of his own will, and absolute subjection to that of Jesus. But the spiritual meaning afterward set forth by Christ, viz., that none could enter or remain in his communion unless spiritually purified through him, was probably implied also in these words. Peter, alarmed, cries out, “Yea, if it be so, Lord, not my feet alone, but also my hands and my head.” To this Christ replied: “That is too much: he that is washed (bathed) needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.” (A figure taken from Eastern usage: he that is already bathed, need only, on coming in from the road, wash off the soil that may have gathered on his feet.) The spiritual import, then, of the symbolical act, and of Christ’s language in regard to it, probably is: Whosoever, through faith in me, has received the purifying principle of life, who is pure in heart and motives, needs only thereafter continued purification from sins cleaving to him outwardly; just as the Apostles, though inspired by pure love to Christ, still stood in need of the power of this animating love, to cleanse and purify their mode of thought.

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