Since moving to Zambia, and now experiencing the dry season, I am beginning to understand more about the Biblical perspective of washing feet (literally!). My sweet little gray flats that seemed so perfect when I got them, become filthy the second I walk out the door for work. Where there is dust there are dirty feet, and where there are dirty feet there is a need for washing them. Which leads us to a familiar passage that has been catching my attention in a new way,
“So he got up from the table, took off his robe. Wrapped a towel around his waist and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.” John 13:4-5 (NLT)
In this context, washing people’s feet would have been considered one of the lowliest jobs known to man. Especially in this culture, where walking in dust was the only way to get around, feet have a tendency to get very dirty very fast. So, a simple act of hospitality would be to have your servant come and wash your guests’ feet as soon as they arrive at your home.
In this case however, no one had been assigned to do the washing. Jesus saw a need and He met it. Much in the same way He saw hurting people and He healed them, Jesus was in the ministry of meeting people’s physical needs and often taught people as He met their spiritual needs as well. Jesus was the most respected one in the room, everyone was there to follow and hear from Him, and yet He took one of His last few moments with them to take on the literal role of a servant. This was so out of place, the disciples didn’t get it at first, so Jesus explained,
“And since, I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” John 13:14-15 (NLT)
My friend Melanie getting her feet washed Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya.
Foot washing has always been something powerful for me. Even though it doesn’t fully translate the exact same way in our modern context, foot washing can be so symbolic of our need to be cleansed and our calling to serve and build up one another. However, what has really been standing out to me in this passage is an element my pastor highlighted when he preached on this passage recently. You see, the particular context behind the foot washing beyond its cultural and symbolic meaning is also significant. Jesus washes His disciples feet at a very particular time in His ministry as recounted in the beginning of the chapter,
“Before Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to His Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.” John 13:1 (NLT)
This was a very difficult time for Jesus, as He knew He was approaching the end. Only a little while later, His prayers over what He was about to do would cause Him to sweat blood. Jesus knew His task on earth wasn’t going to be easy. Not only was He the all-powerful amazing God squeezed into a tiny human form with all of our limitations and shortcomings, but also He had to face separation from His Father as He took on all of our sins on the cross. That’s a pretty intense endeavor to anticipate, so we would understand if He spent His time resting and getting ready for what was about to take place. However, Jesus chose to spend His days to the fullest, and took every opportunity to serve whether people needed their feet cleaned or their hearts forgiven, Jesus was always about His Father’s business.
How convicting that is to me, when I find myself at the end of my rope, feeling like all I need is a long break from the pressures of everyday life. I long for a vacation after a long week at work, or a weekend full of sleep after battling traffic early every morning, and these things aren’t necessarily bad on the surface. However, in this state of mind, looking for opportunities to serve is usually the last thing on my mind. After all, I deserve a break right?
Now, I am not saying that all we should do is work, or that there isn’t a time to rest. In fact, God commanded us to set aside a day of rest each week, because this is how He created us. However, we can’t use our tiredness or busy schedule as an excuse to miss opportunities God has given us to serve. If we become overwhelmed with what is going on and fix our eyes on escaping our situation, we might ignore the dirty feet around us. What a simple way to show the love of Jesus to people, by meeting a basic need. Perseverance and presence are both key if we don’t want to miss how God is working in our midst.
Drew and I summiting our first 14er together.
I kind of think about it like what you go through when you’re hiking a 14er. For those of you who haven’t caught the Colorado hiking craze, a 14er is a mountain that reaches 14,000 feet in elevation. There are varying degrees of difficulty, but if you’re not used to it, this will likely be a very intense hike and usually involves waking up very early and spending most of the day climbing past the tree line to the summit and then back down again. If you’re lucky, you might also experience some delicious mountain pie pizza with honey filled crust on the way back to the city after the hike is over. Trust me, nothing is more delicious.
Though difficult, 14ers can be one of the most exhilarating and breathtaking experiences of a Colorado summer. But there are so many adjustments to make along the way. As the elevation increases, energy dwindles and the climb often becomes steeper and steeper. If you are focused on just powering through to get to the pizza at the bottom of the mountain, then you have missed the whole point. You will cut yourself short of the gorgeous scenery and wonderful company of friends to journey with along the way.
I think that is what life is like in the difficult moments when we excuse ourselves from serving the world around us. To the world, that seems perfectly acceptable and reasonable for the most part, but our Savior, whose example we seek to follow, loved until the end. In a culture that is addicted to being busy and the pride that comes with that, may we be a people that take the time to participate in the world around us. When what you are going through seems like it is never going to end, look around for someone’s feet to wash. See how you can put this into practice today. Spread the peace and blessing of Christ wherever you go with whomever you meet, as we journey together and find ways to wash one another’s feet.