The room would do, Cephas thought. Four walls and a roof. What more did you need?
It was mostly just a functional space–a place where people gather for a meal, and then return to their homes afterward. In the middle of the room was a long, low table. There were few decorations of any sort. Cephas and his friends reclined around the table on cushions, waiting for Jesus to speak as the meal was served.
He always spoke.
The smell of meat, fish, and bread filled the air, and Cephas began to feel his stomach growl. He wondered if the others could hear it. There were small dishes of dates here and there on the table. Several small platters of soft cheese. Cephas felt like grabbing handfuls of everything and foregoing the wooden plate in front of him.
The Lord sat at the table’s center, and after a brief glance at them, He stood and walked to a large, beaten metal bowl that sat by the door next to a small wooden milking stool. On the chair was a folded linen towel. Next to it was a clay jug full of water. Cephas wondered what He was doing. But then again, He had been known to go off on his own at times. Maybe He was leaving.
He didn’t leave.
Jesus removed his outer garments, and wrapped the towel around his waist. Cephas noticed once again the effect that decades of working with tools, wood, and with his hands have had on His body. He was slender, but strong, and his hands were large. They were callused from his work, but they were gentle as he took the clay jug and poured water into the bowl. He picked up a ladle from the ground next to the bowl, and without another word, he walked over to the man closest to the door, knelt down, and began to wash his feet.
This was the task of a servant, Cephas thought–a lowly servant at that–and he couldn’t believe the Lord was doing what He was doing.
It wasn’t right. He felt his temper begin to flare.
And then the Lord knelt at his feet, setting the bowl and ladle down next to him.
“Lord,” Cephas asked him, “are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus looked up at Cephas, and his eyes were brown, and kind, and full of love. “You don’t realize now what I’m doing,” he replied. “But later you will understand.”
Cephas began to feel angry again. Why was He doing this? And what won’t he understand now? He understood that Jesus should not be performing the act of the lowliest of servants–he understood that much.
“No!” he said, and it was almost a shout. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus looked at him for a long moment and then answered in a soft voice, “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with me.”
This made no sense. “Then, Lord,” Cephas said, “not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well.”
Jesus answered, looking into his eyes all the while “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
This last statement makes even less sense. Who was the Lord talking about?
Before he could ask, Cephas felt the hands of the carpenter on his feet, removing his sandals. Jesus put them aside, then set the bowl beneath Cephas’s feet. He scooped water up with the wooden ladle and slowly poured it over his ankles, then his feet and toes. He gently rubbed the dirty feet, and then poured more water over them to rinse. His hands were strong, but gentle, and Cephas could see the dirt and dust slipping away, falling back into the water. Then he slowly dried his feet with the rough towel, and Cephas felt nearly overwhelmed with emotion. This act, this simple act of a servant humbled him–nearly crushed him–and suddenly his appetite was gone.
Jesus moved on to the next man. When he was finished washing all their feet, he once again put on his rough clothes and returned to his place at the center of the table.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
He stopped for a moment and looked at them all. Then He looked directly at Cephas.
“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
His voice was soft, but Cephas felt as if he could have heard it from outside the Sheep Gate. He rose a little from his reclined position and looked at his feet. He thought about what Jesus had done, and bade him to do.
He wondered if he could do it.