According to John’s gospel (Chapter 13), it was just before the festival of the Passover. Perhaps it was just just before – the night before - the night of the special Jewish party/meal called the Seder, where you essentially eat your way through the story of the Exodus with a variety of symbolic foods. But we don’t know for sure.
What we probably imagine in any case is a quiet night of food, friends and faith. The conversation between Jesus and his disciples is amiable and lively, and the mood relaxed. It is evening and candlelight makes things especially warm and relaxing.
Then, as we continue to imagine the story brought to us in John’s gospel at Chapter 13, Jesus, the disciples’ savior and LORD, stands up from his exalted place at the head of the table as voices go silent. He walks over to where a towel and bowl can be found – left by the servants who washed Jesus and guests’ feet before dinner. Jesus dramatically removes his robe, wearing only ancient near eastern underwear, and, in the most humble and loving way possible gently washes each disciple's feet.
Perhaps some sort of stringed instrument plays softly in the distance and we hear the shocked slow breaths of everyone around that table, as they witness Jesus perform a most vulnerable, intimate, scandalously lowly task with the people he most deeply loves. After washing most of the disciples' feet, the last to the first, he finally comes upon Peter, his right-hand man. And Peter looks into Jesus eyes and says,
“HEY WELCOME TO TARGET!”
Of course that’s not what Peter would say, and for any number of reasons, right??!!?? As you may know, “The Target Lady” is a crazy character invented by the very funny Christine Wiig for “Saturday Night Live.” As Wiki imho quite aptly describes her,
Here’s an example of the Target Lady in action. (My apologies, this is the only video of The Target Lady that would download onto this site. You can watch a much better version of this sketch if you go to NBC.com. Plus check out hulu for other great Target Lady sketches!)
In any case, for a true change of pace as you go through the interchange with Jesus and Peter about footwashing, as described for us in John 13, it’s quite something to imagine Peter as The Target Lady, and what that scene might have looked like had it actually been so.
As Peter looks at that basin of water and Jesus in his ancient near eastern counterpart to tighty-whiteys and says, “What you gonna do, my Savior? Wash my feet! Oh I love to have my feet washed I love it! Some nice warm water, scented soap, a little oil to soften my bunions…
But wait, my feet are already washed, just before dinner. I don’t need to have my feet washed again, that’s crazy! I don’t mean you’re crazy, you’re my savior but no thanks, my feet are just fine! "
Jesus says, “You do not know what I am doing but later you will understand.”
Growing a little agitated, Peter (aka The Target Lady) says, “I know you’re the LORD and I know deep in my heart that the LORD is always right and I’ve been trained to always say it, but you will never wash my feet because I haven’t had my cootie vaccination! I’d just DIE if I gave cooties to you!”
Then Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you will have no share in heaven with me.”
Suddenly, as if hit by lightening, Peter’s eyes light up as his head does a double take. He unfurls his arms and legs and jumps up with boundless joy, running out of the room for a second and returning with a towel of his own.
Peter says, “Lord not my feet only but also my hands and my head! AND LOOK!” He wraps his towel around his head and says, “I’ll also then be ready when we do South Pacific for a church fundraiser!” He then starts singing and acting out, “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair!” Then he adds, parenthetically, “This will be a socially progressive multicultural unisex version. Of course!"
Jesus rolls his eyes and puts his hand on Peter’s shoulder to stop. He says, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.”
Jesus then, in a state more agitated, perhaps because he’s had to deal with Peter’s nuttiness, says, “And you are clean, but not all of you...." As Jesus looks around to find Judas.....
Peter then happily sits down with the anticipation of a Cinderella awaiting a try-on of the glass slipper to prove she’s the Real Princess. Peter sticks his feet out and wiggles his toes excitedly, coyly, giggling and singing, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”
Jesus sighs, rolls his eyes and shakes his head, and bends down to wash even Peter’s feet. "Is this," Jesus wonders, "perhaps the act of greatest giving and tolerant love?"
As Jesus proceeds, Peter "ooh's" and "ah's" as the scratchy towel tickles his thrilled feet. Then Jesus says, trying not to say it between his teeth,
“So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Hearing himself say that, Jesus finds he is learning something inspiring and new. He then says, “Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor messengers greater than the one who sent them.”
"That’s right!" Jesus then says to himself! "Peter, in his often overly unbounded and irritating enthusiasm, is not going to get the best of me! I will love Peter fully and sincerely, just as I love the rest of these!"
So Jesus says aloud, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” So shall it be not only for us, but also for Jesus.
I know that all sounds really crazy! But then again, if we let the comic potential of this scene – which I truly believe it has because Peter, even if we imagine him as just Peter, acts ridiculously in this encounter – some of the things Jesus says and does after his premiere disciple's shenanigans make perhaps a lot more sense.
And not only for Jesus. This is for all of us as we encounter overwhelming-to-the point-of-annoying spiritual hunger and enthusiasm in those we are called to serve. It’s messy, but as we move ahead committed to tolerance and love, we all make it through better, and purer, than before.