because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
--Sassy John 2:11
The Gospels' tartness is highly underrated. The irony of certain passages is lost in the friendly voice of the pastor. This is perhaps one of my favorite of all these little digs, worthy of Chesterton or Parker or Abigail Van Buren.
Of course, certainly, the Creator of the world would understand human nature better than anyone else. Imagine the great irony of someone trying to explain to the Son of God how humans operate.
Imagine the great irony of a creature approaching God and asking: What do you want? Whatever it is; I will give it to you. When, in reality, what they are asking: what can I give you that will satisfy you enough that you will not ask for me? What can I use for my bartering chip that will allow me to still rule the kingdom of myself?
I want so desperately for their to be two governing powers: God and myself. In my mental utopia, we will exist as friendly allies. Situated nearby one another: an easy sea-voyage, but not too close for comfort: a buffer of considerable distance between us. Our relationship will be that one of friendly commerce and open trade: I will provide for Him the things He desires from my neatly cultivated kingdom, and He will give me what I need from His. I am like a small island kingdom, and He is like a mainland king. He has significantly more wealth and power than I do, so I know myself (in a nagging, annoying way), to be in His debt. In order to keep my economy running, I need his assistance. I know that He could find a thousand other trade partners with a snap of His fingers, so I need to keep Him happy. I need to convince Him that He has a need to trade with me. I know that He does not need me, but I need Him, so the status quo is in His favor.
On the other hand, I know that if He so desired, He could conquer me in the blink of an eye. His power is so much greater than mine that His troops could overrun my motley militia in probably less than a day. I am mortally afraid of this conquest. I must acquiesce to requests from Him I would not heed from other powers, because I need to persuade Him that I am allied to Him enough that He does not see fit to overrule me.
If I play my political cards correctly, then I will be able to live in my unsteady and perilous independence for the foreseeable future. And I will never truly know or understand Him, because I am imagining Him thinking as I think, calculating as I calculate, and desiring what I desiring: which is an ever-increasing inflation of self. This is why I am scared to capitulate to Him: because I imagine Him to be seeking what I seek: an increase of myself at the expense of all else. To fill the world with more of Me, and less of Other People. To minimize the amount of other material, and to maximize the amount of myself. And I will be damned if allow myself to help Him succeed in His mission of self-expansion.
How can we begin to understand, to comprehend a Being whose desire is not Self, but Other? We can hardly do this, because this is an agenda so contrary to our own. But His desire is not for Himself, but for us. But not an "us" that is just swallowed up and consumed by Him, but an "us" that is gloriously, fully alive, through being washed by Him. Through Him, we are freed to be the selves that we are meant to be. We are no longer attached to this desperate agenda of self-expansion, which is every human being's tempting manifest destiny.
As He stoops down to wash our feet, we understand that the greatness that we seek is not found in self-assertion. It is not found in proving to the world that we are Something; it is not found in constantly seeking our own increase. It will be found in surrendering our pride, our sense of what the world ought to be, and how things ought to work, and letting Him wash our feet.
As we finally surrender ourselves, as the water of grace washes over us, we finally find the greatness and we seek in the love that makes us clean.