By Jim Tune
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water in a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:3-5).
There was never any question regarding appropriate etiquette. It was the privilege of the most powerful person in the room to never need to worry about his feet being washed. As a respected teacher, such things simply happened without needing to resign yourself to the indignity of requesting them.
It is no surprise that Peter interrupts Jesus’ humble and shocking progression around the table with an incredulous protest: “Lord are you going to wash my feet?” (v. 6). Peter insists: “You shall never wash my feet” (v. 8).
After years of abiding in Jesus’ inner circle, Peter still doesn’t get it. Jesus never confused the adoration of men or the posture and prestige of social status with real power. Jesus knows that, far from being powerless, he holds all things in his hands. He knows where and from whom he has come. He knows where and to whom he is going. His actions at the supper, and later, on the looming cross, are not a sign of someone who has lost power, but someone who has been given all power. Still, Peter is perplexed as he consents to the Lord’s will.
Hours later, Jesus will be taken away and flogged by Roman soldiers to make a second appearance before Pilate. Jesus is bloody, bruised, crowned with thorns, and draped in purple as a mockery of his kingly claims. Unlike our current kings and leaders, Jesus is silent. Like Peter, Pilate is confused about the source of true power. In a mix of bewilderment and frustration, Pilate said, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:10). Pilate believes he holds all the cards—that political power enforced by violence always triumphs.
Pilate supplies his own answers to the question he asked Jesus earlier, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth is power. Pilate is in effect saying, “Look, Jesus, you seem harmless enough, and I don’t want to execute you, but you have to accept the truth; you have to face reality. The truth is the world is run by powerful people—people like Caesar, people like me. Don’t you understand? I am the powerful one here because I hold your life in my hands!”
Evangelicals have spent decades pursuing a vision of power that has more often resembled the posture of Peter or Pilate than Jesus. Jesus offers an alternative to the power structures of this world: if we don’t have it in the world, we have it in the kingdom.