To be the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist preacher is to own a library of Bibles.
For some reason, from my towering stack of Holy Scriptures, the one that I’ve stuck with reading is my NIV Teen Study Bible. Never mind the fact that I’m now 30 years old. Or that the first 33 chapters of Genesis detached themselves like the empty bit of a spaceship when it exits earth’s atmosphere, or that more than a few pages may be anointed with chai tea. I still love it. Perhaps a little too ardently.
Full disclosure: I haven’t always loved this Bible—or any Bible for that matter. Reading Scripture was boring and far too difficult to understand. But then I heard a preacher quote Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search out a matter.”
Wait. God intentionally hides things? For me to find? Mind blown.
That simple revelation has whisked me away on many biblical adventures, and now I write Bible studies as part of my job—a privilege preteen me could’ve never imagined. When the editors of In Touch Magazine asked me to give a tour of my study process, I leapt at the opportunity. So, if you’re interested in joining a royal search party, keep reading.
Remember: mystery is a divine invitation to intimacy. And the good news is you don’t have to be a theologian to RSVP. Just take your cue from Albert Einstein, who said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
With that thought in mind, grab your Bible and settle somewhere comfy—let’s explore a passage together.
1. Getting Started
Before I ever read anything, I exhale one simple prayer: Holy Spirit, show me something new. Doing so aligns my expectations with His nature as the Spirit of Truth, who glorifies Jesus by guiding disciples in revelation (John 16:13-14). Knowing I’m paired with a trustworthy Teacher frees me to wonder honestly, shedding the pressure to resolve every incongruity into a neat Sunday school lesson.
2. Open Your Bible
Flip with me to page 1,397—or John 13 if you’re not using the NIV Teen Study Bible—and let’s explore the beloved disciple’s account of the Last Supper.
After praying, read John 13:1-17.
For those us who grew up in church, this is a well-worn passage, so it can be difficult to find anything fresh since we’ve “heard it all before.” That’s why I allow myself to get distracted by my emotions. The Bible is an ancient, foreign document full of booby traps worthy of Indiana Jones, so don’t brush aside any confusion or offense that bubbles up within you—investigate it. You never know where it may lead.
The first line I trip over is verse 8: “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” To me, his stringent refusal seems a disproportionately harsh response to Jesus. Sure, getting your dirty feet washed by your half-dressed mentor would throw anyone off, but come on, Peter. Everybody else seemed to handle it fine.
This apparent incongruity is enough to send me to Blueletterbible.org in search of commentaries on this passage.
In his notes on John 13, David Guzik points me in the direction of verse 2, an unassuming line that states, “the evening meal was in progress.” According to Guzik, it was customary for the lowest servant in the household to wash guests’ feet—a fact that most pastors love to highlight as the central lesson of the passage: Jesus humbled Himself to serve, and we should do likewise. A very good point—but there’s more to the story.
Guzik also mentions that this foot washing always took place before the meal was served. Yet for some reason, that didn’t happen here. Jesus washed their feet at some point during or after the meal (John 13:2-4). Intriguing—could that have something to do with Peter’s obvious discomfort?
Before we look closer at that detail, there’s another important discovery lurking in Guzik’s commentary. Like me, you probably assumed that the disciples were all seated upright in chairs arranged around a long rectangular table—something like da Vinci’s famous mural The Last Supper, right? Wrong. According to Guzik, it’s highly likely that this meal took place around a triclinium, a special U-shaped table that was low to the ground and required partakers to recline on their sides with their upper bodies positioned near the table for eating. Unlike da Vinci’s depiction, everyone in this scene is actually laying down.
4. Enter the Scene
I reimagine this scene with these new tidbits—lounging disciples with overripe feet—and I squirm with the same vulnerability that must’ve prompted Peter’s harsh words in verse 8. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s a good sign. Identifying with the humanity of biblical characters positions us to meet with God. And that’s where transformation takes place—not in the exposition but in the encounter.
Putting myself in their sandals allows me to see what they’re seeing: Jesus getting up close and personal with the dirtiest, most shameful part of me. Suddenly I understand Peter. If it had been me, I would’ve jumped up and insisted on rinsing my own feet first. But that’s the whole point: “Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’” (John 13:8 emphasis added). It’s not about cleanliness or even humble service. It’s about connection. And connection can’t be forged without allowing another person to come face-to-foot with the shame you should have already cleaned up by now.
Sometimes you must persevere through odors and awkwardness to find the glory hidden in familiar passages like this one. As you indulge your curiosity elsewhere in the Bible, remember to ask as many questions of the text as you can (don’t be afraid if they don’t have answers!), venture outside Scripture to look at commentaries and concordances (Blueletterbible.org is your friend), and keep a close eye on your emotions as you read. But above all else, trust the Holy Spirit. He won’t lead you astray.