12After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. John 13:12-17 ( NLT )( Jhn 13:12 )
Anybody who has ever been in a men’s locker room or raised teenage boys knows what “sticky feet” is all about. There is really no description for the aroma that assaults ones olfactory senses from the sneakers and socks of an athlete. Well I’ll go you one better.
In Jesus’ day, sandals or bare feet were the rule, not the summer time exception. Closed toe footwear or socks were unheard of. We all have sandals or Tevas, so that is no big deal. However, the sandal covered feet of Jesus’ day were walking on dirty, dusty, possibly stone paths or muddy trails. These were the same “roadways” that the animals took. Horses, donkeys, camels, goats, cattle, and sheep, to best of my knowledge, were not house broken during that time or even now for that matter. So dust and dirt of the road was the least of travelers’ problems. The Department of Public Works didn’t keep the streets too clean; that was left to a good rain storm. EEEEeewwwwweee.
It was a standard hospitality practice in Palestine to offer a visitor a basin of water to wash their feet when they came to your home. That’s a big no kidding; who would want someone walking through the house with those dirty feet; certainly not my mother. In wealthy homes, the lowliest of the servants was given the task of washing the visitor’s feet.
Jesus said, “Now that I your teacher and Lord have washed your feet, you are to do that for one another.” Do we even have a clue? Our garage-door-opener-fenced-in-back-yard-stick-to-our- computer-monitor lives can’t begin to image that kind of personal, almost intimate, contact with someone. Is Jesus asking us to be space invaders with each other? I’m pretty sure He is. How can we really disciple someone unless we are willing and able to wash their feet? Will we wade into the mud and muck of what they have walked through in their lives?
I have seen God do some powerful stuff when people have literally washed one another’s feet. As I have been blessed to see and participate in this awesome practice I have often wondered who is this more humbling for, the washer or the washee? In either case, the heart must be vulnerable, open, even exposed.
The one that extends the foot and the one who receives the foot, each must be willing to expose themselves to each other. Please notice; Jesus began by stripped down to undergarments. Jesus became vulnerable first. We must lead the same way in washing one another’s feet. We can convey safety and vulnerability by stripping away all pretense, and masks and stuff that gets in the way of us being in real relationship with one another. It will be much easier for someone to expose their filthy feet to someone who is kneeling before them in their skivvies.
I think that you and I would agree, in principle if not in practice, that it is easier to give than to receive; especially in foot washing. Is it possible for someone to wash your feet? Will you expose the mud and the dung you have walked through in your travels?
One of the things that the Catholic Church has gotten right is the confessional. We Protestants tend to run from anything Catholic just in principle without really examining what we are running from. Confession is cathartic. It is meant to be way. Yes, we confess our sins to God and He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us (1Jo 1:9 ). But, what about James 5:16 (Jam 5:16) ? “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” How many times have we not felt forgiven, not felt cleansed, after we have confessed our sins to God. Confession, to one another, is healing.
When we extend our foot to the one who washes them, we are saying, these are my sins; these are my burdens. There is an important transaction between us and God, and the foot washer and the one whose foot is being washed. It is sacramental, because grace is conveyed between us and God, between each other. Boy, do we ever need that kind of grace.
So you want to be disciple makers (Mat 28:19) ? Carry a basin and a towel. You’ll need it.