There was a picture hanging over my grandmother’s telephone when I was a kid. I asked her about it one day and she told me that it had been given to her by one of the people that were fondly referred to as the “attic rats” (I later became one of those attic rats – University students who had run out of money and needed a place to stay – so we stayed in the attic of her house).
My grandmother said that when that particular student graduated, the picture was given as a gift, expressing in picture form how the student felt about my grandma. It was a picture depicting the scene that his written up in this particular passage.
When Jesus gathered his 12 disciples together on the evening in which Judas Iscariot betrayed Him to the soldiers, which resulted in his execution, He walked in on the party and found them discussing which one was the greatest of all His followers. He listened to it for a while and then walked over and picked up a basin and a towel, and started to wash their feet (and action normally carried out by a servant, but as there was no servant, they had, in effect, been discussing who was going to do the job – and nobody wanted it).
The picture was of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and in particular when he got to Peter who absolutely refuse to let Jesus do it. Jesus knew that at least one of them would likely object to what he was doing, and when Peter did so, he went right after Peter, and Peter’s attitude.
The point of the incident was that Jesus was saying, “You guys had better smarten up and learn how to refresh each other, because it’s a dusty, bumpy world out there, and when I’m gone, who’s going to do the refreshing that I’ve been doing for you – you’re going to have to learn to do it for each other.”
He went on to say that they had gotten all the big stuff straight, but they had neglected to see that you can trip over little stuff just as much as you can trip over the big stuff.
I had a friend of mine who said that when he first went to be a chaplain in the federal penitentiary the first thing that overwhelmed him was the enormity of the evil that was in that institution. Later on, he said that what amazed him was the banal nature of evil – and then he realized that evil can be huge or small, but in both cases it can really mess up a person’s life. What Jesus was talking about here was the need to look after the little things as well as the big things.
This passage comes under the heading of when people seem to be unkind. Perhaps it was included here because unkindness is one of those little things that we do to each other that can trip us up just as much as the big problems. The refreshing that we need to do for each other is also a small thing, but can have big effects.
When I worked up North, I was at a friend’s place when the plane came into his dock. He worked for another mission outfit, which was supplied by an airplane flown by a missionary. The plane was only at the dock for five minutes, but in that time, I saw the pilot unload the freight, take on new freight, and all the time crack jokes and bring news from the outside world. I was amazed at the transformation of mood in my friend over that five minutes. That’s where I learned about the huge effect a little bit of refreshing can have on somebody’s soul.
In the passage, Jesus then deals with two other issues – one is the fact that he’s going to be betrayed by one of the people sitting in that room, and the other is that one of his best friends, Peter, is going to be challenged about being a friend of Jesus. Jesus knew that Peter would deny even knowing who Jesus was, because he would be afraid he would get arrested as well.
Both men seem to be totally unaware of the enormity of what they were about to do, but Jesus seemed to be perfectly aware of what they are capable of being and doing.
In the end, Jesus tells Peter that it’s okay, because Peter’s time will come, but the whole point is that Peter is to stay in continue the work even though Jesus is going to be killed – it’s not his time.
So when people seem to be unkind, in the big things or the little things, we need to be aware of the bigger picture. And that’s why I think this particular chapter was put under this subheading.
In terms of the little things – reach out and refresh each other. In terms of the big things like betrayal and denial of friendship, then turn those situations over to God and allow Back to work all that into something good despite the nastiness, and try not to get swept away in it.
The passages referred to in the eighth chapter of Romans (elsewhere on this list), which come towards the end of that chapter speak to the problem of all things working together for good when turned over to God for God to bring something good out of them.