John 13:8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.”
It is Holy Week. This past Sunday, we remembered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Later this week, we will find ourselves in the garden with Jesus as he urges the sleepy disciples to stay awake and pray with him. And then we will be at the trial and at the cross and at the empty tomb. But, if I could only tell you one story about Jesus as you reflect on the events of this week, here is what I would tell you. It is one of my very favorite stories about Jesus, the story John tells about the night Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.
The other gospel writers focus on a meal around a common table and the conversation and events surrounding that event. John chooses to tell us about something else that happened as the meal was being served that night. It was customary for a servant to wash the feet of the guests gathered for a meal. Dirty, dusty feet. Tired feet. Feet that often walked many miles clad in sandals to reach their destination. But on this night, no servant was there to provide for that task, and none of those gathered had volunteered. Oh, no, there wasn’t a single soul there who wanted to jump in and take on the role of a servant. Those gathered there THAT night were much more interested in claiming a seat of honor somewhere close to Jesus.
But, in order to really tell you this story, I have to go way back and start at the beginning…at the very beginning, at creation, way back in Genesis. To understand this story, you have to know that when God created humankind, we were absolutely whole and perfect. But to make us authentically human, God gave us free will and set parameters on our choices. We could have everything but ONE thing. We could be perfectly satisfied with all God had created. We didn’t NEED that one thing God said was off limits. There wasn’t even anyone else to compete with who had that one thing except some slimy serpent. But when Eve took the fruit of the tree and shared it with Adam, her willing accomplice, humanity became broken. WE became broken and WE ARE BROKEN.
And ever since the events we read about in the third chapter of Genesis, human beings have been trying to fix whatever it is that is broken deep in our souls and spirits. You know the metaphors that color our lives, the advocacy to do what we can to get ahead, the compulsion to acquire more and more stuff, the ways in which we measure ourselves against other people, how they look and what they do and what they have.
What we find, though, when we bring ourselves before scripture is that none of those things will fix what is broken on the inside. Instead, when we take a good hard look at the Word of God we catch a glimpse of Jesus with a towel and a basin doing the lowliest and most menial of human tasks! That is the kind of model and metaphor we find in scripture, the metaphor of service, of giving sacrificially. You can search scripture from one end to the other and you will not find anything that urges you toward personal acquisition or power or authority over others. Instead you will find the admonition to sell all you have and give to the poor. You will find parables encouraging you to be a good neighbor to those in need. You will find advice to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, to find a void where need exists and fill it. Living the Jesus way is how the brokenness is made whole.
I hope that as we experience Crucifixion and Resurrection in days to come, we will keep the vision of Jesus with a towel and basin at the forefront of our thoughts, because it shows us where we go next. It is only in receiving and giving the love of Christ as a servant that we find our way back to holiness. If we only give lip-service to our understanding of the Cross and don’t live the Jesus way, we are not Easter people.
Do you ever wonder what might have happened if you had been there with the disciples, gathered in that upper room? I have! And you know what, if I had been there, Jesus would have washed my feet, too. He would not have cared whether or not I had a recent pedicure, although I would probably sweat that detail first thing. But Jesus wouldn’t have cared. He would have taken my feet gently in his hands. He wouldn’t have even mentioned the rough, peeling skin or the bunions. He would have held my feet ever-so-tenderly, knowing they were tired from trudging around with all my burdens, and he would have brought refreshment to my soul and spirit as he ministered to my needs.
May we in this Lenten season be overcome with the compassion of Christ, so that we may live as compassionate people in this world that tugs us in so many other directions. Let us be thankful for the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, a love so big and wide that we can only comprehend it in small glimpses.
Oh, loving Jesus, it makes us uncomfortable when you want to wash our feet! We want to hide our most unlovable selves from you. But you are God and you see everything, right into the broken places we cover with false bravado and unbridled acquisition. Let us hear the call to be vulnerable and real before you so that you can heal us and make us holy. We would rather turn away, but your love demands all. Let us heed the call to take up a towel and basin so that we can become more like you. May it be so this Easter! AMEN.
Grace to you,