So Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Is that as gross and awkward as it sounds to our modern ears?
The answer is yes. Possibly even more so.
Imagine washing the feet of someone who gets around primarily by walking and who wears sandals all the time. And there are no cars yet, so the streets are pretty much covered in animal muck.
Foot washing was a necessary task in Jesus’ time, and it was one of the most important gestures of hospitality. It was also considered so disgusting and demeaning that a master was not allowed to order his Jewish slave to do it.
Now imagine Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, putting on a towel and stooping down to do this chore even some slaves wouldn’t do. No wonder Peter’s response was something like horror: “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus did, and then he washed eleven other pairs of feet. Then he asked his disciples if they understood why.
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,'” he said, “and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master…”
I’ve been thinking about footwashing this Lent, trying to figure out what the equivalent is in my own life. Now that we have showers and close-toed shoes and cars, what is it I’m supposed to be doing?
I believe it was Shane Claiborne who likened washing feet to scrubbing toilets. Seems like a good analogy to me. I think of that often when I’m cleaning my own house, when I don’t want to bend my knees and get down in the muck and mess.
Reflecting on this is good for me. My mother was not a great housekeeper, and neither am I. Mostly I just don’t want to take the time to do chores – not when there are so many other, better, things I could be doing. More noble. More important. More uplifting.
But Jesus says, Get in there. Wipe away that grime. Don’t let your pride get in the way. I don’t care who you are. I’ve set you an example.
But even more than housework, this applies to my job. I’ve mentioned before that my job is boring, stressful, undesirable. I certainly never wanted to work customer service. As much as I’ve learned from my job over the years, it’s also true that most of the time I feel like it’s a waste. I have a fancy degree. I’d rather be doing so many other things, and I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about that when I should be working.
This Lent I gave up surfing the Internet at work. It was my guilty pleasure: when I was on hold, or when I felt like there was nothing else to do, I’d look at a blog, a window on someone else’s life, and escape my own life for a minute.
It felt like a tiny vice, something everyone did from time to time. But I realized the more I did it, the less I wanted to serve. I felt annoyed at customers for interrupting my reading. I felt annoyed at the universe that I was stuck in the land of gray cubicles. I felt annoyed at God for not showing me a way out of this dead-end job.
So this Lent, I’ve focused on just serving – and trying to do it joyfully, as worship. Trying to see our customers as Jesus, as loved by Jesus. Trying to do my job, a job many would say only the desperate would take, generously and freely, just as Jesus did.
I have a lot to learn about the Lord’s gentleness and humility. My instinct in many situations is still to say, “That’s not my job!” or “They don’t pay me enough to care.” or “Clean up your own mess!”
This Holy Thursday, I pray for a different kind of attitude, a gentle and quiet spirit, an emptying of myself, a willingness to be a student of my Teacher.