It isn’t unusual for those who have been following Jesus for a while to have moments of doubt. Things in our lives don’t turn out as we hoped or expected, and we can start to wonder whether the suffering and disorientation we’re experiencing will end. We stumble around in the dark where the forces of evil look like they’re going to win. We’re looking for hope but can’t see it on the horizon. “And it was night” (John 13:30).
For the disciples, this was the night the wheels fell off. This was the night in which they, having committed to following Jesus without fully understanding what that meant for Him or them, were thrown into a new level of confusion. Just days before, they had witnessed Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem in full view of everyone. Jesus, who had often been a bit dodgy about proclaiming Himself as the Messiah and King of Israel, was showing His hand—and they had front-row seats! But on this dark night, two strange things happened. First, Jesus knelt before each of them and washed their feet—the humble act of a slave. Then, Jesus told them that He would be betrayed, and Judas got up and left.
Have you had a night like this? A night when God doesn’t do what you had thought He would? When the sign you had hoped for was not the one you got? On these nights, our sense of confusion—of not knowing what is going on—can cause us to reevaluate everything.
But in our dark night, for the disciples and us, Jesus is still there. Yes, He often doesn’t act the way we expect Him to act. Like Peter, we try to tell Him what he ought to do. What looks like modesty…“You will never wash my feet” (v.8)…can be self-righteousness or our attempt to make it on our own without being vulnerable and letting ourselves depend fully on Him. We think the world needs other people to be set right rather than for us to be washed, purified, and “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
And yet Jesus served, showing both what sort of person He is and what following Him entails. He even washed the feet of Judas, who He knew had already given in to the temptation to betray.
Often as we wade through our confusion and desperation, we are reminded how little we have control over our lives and how needy and dependent we are on Jesus. And the gift Jesus offers, as He did on the night He was betrayed, is to put a towel around His waist, kneel before us, and wash our feet. And if we’re desperate enough, if our defenses have mercifully been taken away, we let Him do it.