Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
As I read these words of Jesus I hear them in a Scottish, ‘Rebus’ like, accent and I want to hear him end the sentence with a clipped, “Jimmy.” It is one of those, there is no arguing with me, statements. It might be construed as a threat although I expect Jesus actually said it with soft patient compassion. The thing is, what Peter really did want was a part of Jesus. He was desperate for it. Jesus was saying there is only one way you are going to get it. I’m going to have to wash you. So, what’s so hard about that then?
Consider Naaman, back in the days of Elisha he was the commander of the Syrian army. A powerful, successful general. ‘He was a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper.’ 2 Kings 5.1 Sometime previously Naaman had captured an Israelite girl child and made her his wife’s servant. She told her mistress about Elisha, who, she said, could cure Namaan. Naaman’s wife told Naaman, who told the king, who gave him permission to seek out Elisha. Off went Naaman to the king of Israel with huge amounts of money and gifts and a letter from the terrifying king of Syria demanding the king of Israel cure Naaman of leprosy. The king of Israel, knowing he could do no such thing had a full-blown panic attack. Up steps Elisha and says stop panicking and send him to me. ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ 2 Kings 5.8 Naaman turns up and is told to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman loses his temper and says Syria’s rivers are better than your river. ‘I want full blown, dramatic prophecy and ceremony,’ and storms off. Once again, it was servants who had wisdom and persuaded the ‘great man’ to do the simple thing he was asked to do. He did, he was healed and immediately believed in and trusted in the God of Israel.
The hard, hard thing was that there was nothing about him or his capabilities that he could bring to his own cleansing except obedience. It took a slave girl to point the way out of kindness. It took other servants to recognize who God was speaking through. He had to come to the point where he laid aside his ego. Perhaps that is why Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. All those things we value the highest and have placed in the place God should have in our life have to be forsaken as useless to enter the kingdom of God. We cannot buy our way to forgiveness, we cannot earn our way to forgiveness, we cannot deserve forgiveness, we cannot prove ourselves to God through overcoming trials, we cannot gain forgiveness through religious ritual and tradition. The only way to forgiveness is through humbly allowing Jesus to wash us. Josh Moody wrote, “There is no other way to heaven but through the basin and the towel of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.” D.A. Carson wrote, “Unless the lamb of God has taken away a person’s sin, has washed that person, he or she can have no part with him.” No one is excluded unless we exclude ourselves.
We can be washed by Jesus by humbly asking and trusting in his promise to forgive and cleanse our lives.
We can be a servant and humbly point others in the direction of Jesus.
Here I am – Chris Bowater