In the Gospels, Peter seems to have a particular talent for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Being with Jesus brought more than just a few significant moments. Early on, when Jesus started healing people and excited crowds were gathering, there was an early morning when he went away alone to pray. Peter, caught up in the excitement of the crowds coming for healing, urged him to return, to keep going. It was the wrong thing to say. Jesus had other plans. Then there was the occasional up the mountain when Jesus had been transfigured. “Let us make you some tents,” Peter said because he did not know what else to say. It was the wrong thing to say. We might remember too Peter in the High Priest’s courtyard, Jesus on trial and Peter denying he knew him. Just last Sunday here, we read how Jesus had begun teaching that he would suffer death, only to have Peter rebuke him for such talk.
Tonight we have read yet another story of Peter missing the point, saying the wrong thing, spoiling the moment. Certainly, he had a right to be surprised by what Jesus was doing. Normally footwashing was the role of a menial servant. But this act, as was everything Jesus did, was purposeful. He did not waste his actions as he did not waste his words.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. The Gospel does not record whether any answered. Did they understand? Do we?
I want to take one thought from this tonight. In all the examples I gave of occasions in which people might put their foot in it, might say the wrong thing, such an inappropriate word would matter because someone else was trying to say something serious. And saying or doing something serious is often costly. It costs an individual to open up, to let something deep about them be seen. It cost Jesus to show his disciples that the Son of God is the servant of all. It cost him to show them that the path he was on was one on which he would be despised, even more so than a servant who washes feet, so much so that he would end up being killed. But if a word or an action is really to be worth something, it will cost.
This evening’s service marks World Day of Prayer, and so our focus should be on prayer. This service includes lots of prayer, prayer for all sorts of different purposes and causes. You might think we should be encouraged to pray more. But I don’t think so. Words, as we have seen, can be cheap and unconsidered. What I think we should be encouraged to do is to pray better and I offer one thought which may help us do that. Prayer is about opening ourselves to God, and that kind of openness should cost us. If prayer is genuine, rather than just a torrent of unconsidered words, then it must be serious, and the very act of praying should change us, because in praying, we should give much to God.