When a Whole Lot of Good is Bad

Often we endure things that don’t need to be endured, take on things that don’t need to be taken on, clean things that don’t need to be cleaned.

If we take another look at a very familiar Bible passage then you will see what I mean.  Following the Last Supper with His disciples Jesus got a pan of water and girded Himself with a towel.  He went to each disciple one by one and washed their feet.  Christians have always taken this to be the supreme example of humility and how we should serve one another, and this is very true.  But, could there be additional nuggets of truth hidden in this passage?

The key is in the discourse that occurs between Peter and Jesus.  As Jesus makes His way to Peter, it is clear Peter is disturbed by what the Lord is doing.  So, when Jesus reaches Peter he (Peter) plainly declares (using my words), “You will never wash my feet!”  To which Jesus replies, “If I don’t wash your feet you can have no part of Me or My ministry (my paraphrase).”  Peter quickly reverses course, and as so many Christians do, goes to the opposite extreme, and proclaims, “Well, then, not my feet only but my head and hands, too.”

Now, this seems perfectly natural, as being ‘washed’ by Jesus is now seen a token of being in partnership with Him.  Therefore, Peter reasons, if a little bit is good, then let’s not just do a little bit, but let’s do it all.  This sounds perfectly logical, but God doesn’t always operate in a way that seems ‘logical’.

Jesus makes a slightly strange comment at this point, and that is the comment I want to pay attention to.  Jesus says, “He who is clean only needs to have his feet washed to be completely clean (my paraphrase).”  In other words, it is only necessary that I wash your feet, not your head, hands, or any other part of your body.

Peter expresses something that we do all the time.  We take something that is good and extend it far beyond what God intended.  Just because a little bit is good, doesn’t mean a whole lot is better.  It would be a waste of time and effort for Jesus to wash Peter’s head and hands, when only his feet needed attention.  However, that is exactly the way we often act with other things in our life.

For example, someone may need a kind word or thought extended to them.  However, they may not need a whole sermon, or life lesson.  Someone may need $10 to help them get through the next day, but they don’t need $1,000.  But, in our limited way of thinking we often put ourselves in the position of trying to wash their whole body, when all they really need is their feet washed.

It is easier to think a whole lot is always better than a little bit.  While this concept may apply to some things (like ice cream or cake), it often doesn’t apply to many things in life, and in fact, a whole lot of some things may actually be bad instead of the good we intended.

So, what is the sum of what we are saying?  Do things in moderation, even good things, with an awareness of what is really required.  Be cautious of doing things just because ‘if a little is good, then a whole lot is even better’, as it may not always hold true, and could even be harmful.  Ask for wisdom and discernment so we can know from God what we should do.




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