Feet…we have a love-hate relationship with them. We need them for standing in the occasional line or for rising upon when moved to stand. We walk on them, run on them, and use them for pushing gas pedals, brake pedals, and bicycle pedals. We need them, but I have found very few people who like their feet.
While women (and maybe some men) doll up their toes with polish or people go for the occasional pedicure, about the only person allowed to touch our feet is a professional. Great love has no one than he lay down his life for his friend, but this somehow does not extend to touching feet.
From the time I heard Michael Card’s The Basin and the Towel, I have been enthralled with the story of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet. The Scripture does not record the reaction in the room, except for Peter. But there surely was surprise, embarrassment, and shock that the Master of this band was stooping to do a job no one else was required to do, not even a Jewish slave.
But one thing would be true. They were used to the washing of feet. They had to do it often as their feet were constantly picking up the dust and refuse found on the paths and roads of their land. For us in the U.S., we often conceal our feet in shoes and socks, occasionally placing them in sandals for relaxation or style.
Whether under paint or clothing, we hide our feet.
Michael Card points out that Jesus understood three things before he washed his disciples’ feet. His Father had given him full control of the situation, Jesus had come from the Father, and he was returning to the Father. What he does with his control is so … well …not like us but so like him. He served his disciples, showing them the full extent of his love in this act of service. Then he tells these disciples to love one another as he loved them.
But somehow we stop at the feet. No one touches the feet. We protest with Peter that Jesus cannot touch these feet. But unlike Peter, we do it from vanity. We will not let people touch our feet because they are awkward and even ugly. They smell and carry the odors of a messy world.
In some ways, our feet are the perfect symbol of true life and true service in this world. Our feet get messy and even smell and might be gross to touch. But they need to be cleaned. When someone is willing to bow and wash another’s feet, it is a sign of true humility and grace. When I will bow to wash your feet, I show I am willing to enter your mess to help free you from that mess.
So if you allow your feet to be washed, it is equally an act of humility. You have the opportunity to admit your mess and allow someone else to enter it and help clean it up. It is an act of service to allow someone to serve you. You bless the giver, not robbing them of the blessing of service by letting them be with you in the dust and smell that had clung to your life. When you will yield to let your feet be washed, you show that you are willing to let someone into your mess to help free you from that mess.
To use Michael’s phrase,
a “fragile bridge” is built between two people, one who kneels and one who yields. This bridge brings the two into a relationship, one that invokes the image of the upper room and the actions of Jesus towards his disciples.
I would say that I would advocate for bringing back foot-washing as a practice so that we can learn again to serve and be served. I know some treat this act as symbolic. So is baptism and communion, but we don’t treat those as options for the Lord’s people. If we are blessed to do what the King himself did for his followers, we can do no less.
Recently, a woman in our church stopped an older gentleman to tell him his shoe was untied. Then she knelt and tied his shoes. She got as close as anyone in my recent memory to washing a person’s feet. I believe we need more of this, in actual practice and in acts that symbolize the spirit of foot-washing, where we enter the hard parts of people’s lives and help them by washing away the dirt to reveal the beautiful creation that their feet represent.
We serve the living God of the Universe who manifested himself in the flesh through Jesus. Now everything in heaven and earth is under Jesus’ feet (read has all authority in all matters of existence). Since he has shown us what a king in full control of all things will do by washing his follower’s feet, we can do no less. And if we will wash feet and let our feet be washed, we will serve and we will be blessed.